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Children a factor in rising fire damages

Jeanne Gagnon
Northern News Services
Published Friday, June 29, 2012

Property damage due to fires in Nunavut last year exceeded the previous four years' total while the number of fires reported also increased, according to the office of the fire marshal's 2011 annual report.

Fire losses last year amounted to $53.6 million, more than double the total losses incurred from 2007 to 2010, according to the report tabled June 6 at the legislature. The number of fires reported in the territory increased to 150 in 2011, higher than the previous five-year average of 102. No one died as a result of the fires but 14 people were injured, according to the report.

The increase in the number of fires can be partly attributed to the better reporting system and partly to a general increase of fires across the territory, said Ed Zebedee, the territory's director of protective services. He added it appears youth are starting more fires.

"While most of those fires are not large fires, it's dangerous and it's increasing the response from our local fire departments," Zebedee said.

The report also states 70 out of the 150 fires, or about 47 per cent, were in residential structures. As well, 47 per cent of fires were started by things like lit cigarettes, lighters and matches.

Human-started fires and vehicle accidents accounted for 37 fires, the highest losses with about $31.2 million in damages - about 58 per cent of the total losses.

Misuse of fire-starting devices and purposely-set fires were the top causes, according to the report, and youth were in large part the culprits. It recommends communities try to find ways to address the issue.

"They have spare time on their hands, don't know what to do with themselves and end up getting in some sort of trouble, which can result in small arson fires being set or inadvertent fires," said Zebedee. "So communities and parental involvement does play a role in preventing fires and passing on a safety culture."

By community, Iqaluit had both the most fires, at 39, and highest fire losses - approximately $24.5 million - out of Nunavut's communities. Resolute had only two fires but they amounted to $15.1 million in property damage, and Iglulik had 18 fires resulting in $1.1 million in losses. Four fires in Baker Lake amounted to approximately $7.5 million in damages while 12 fires in Cambridge Bay resulted in losses slightly higher than $4 million.

The GN is working on a number of new educational and media programs to get people more fire conscious and aware of the risks and hazards of flames, Zebedee said. He added the government is also considering creating an educational video targeting youths.

"Prevention is the greatest saviour in loss numbers. So, if we can prevent fires, then we save lives and we save losses," said Zebedee.

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