‘Alarming’ rise in fire-related deaths across B.C. during pandemic, say experts


B.C.’s fire commissioner says there has been a troubling rise in fire-related deaths in British Columbia during the pandemic.

“Accumulatively we’ve seen an increase of 118 per cent in fire deaths across the province, since the onset of COVID,” said Fire Commissioner Brian Godlonton.

Godlonton says with more people staying at home during the pandemic, many became distracted.

“Unattended cooking in the kitchen, unattended candles, a lot of electronic devices being charged and overcharged causing the fires as well,” said Godlonton.

E-scooters and e-bikes, which soared in popularity during the pandemic, caused many fires by being unsafely charged or used. And there are other commonalities. Overrepresented in the fire fatalities are kids under five and seniors.

According to the fire commissioner, 46 per cent of fatal fires across B.C. in 2021 were seniors.

“People are living in their homes longer and may not have working smoke alarms. That’s a real concern for us,” said Godlonton.

And Vancouver Island is not immune.

Of the 58 people who died in a fire across B.C. in 2021, 15 were on Vancouver Island, a five per cent increase from 2020.

Saanich, Langford and Victoria’s fire departments say they’re not seeing the overall increase the province is experiencing in fire fatalities, but are seeing more fires caused by distraction.

“We are seeing similar trends as being reported by the province, smoking materials, unattended cooking, and cooking fires,” said Chris Royle, Victoria Fire Department’s deputy fire chief.

“It’s very easy to become distracted when you are cooking at home. A simple step you can take is if you do have to step away from your stove even momentarily, you can set a timer. Just an audible alarm that will go off to remind you you’ve got something cooking in the kitchen so you don’t get distracted for too long.”

Firefighters like Royle and Godlonton hope the sobering statistics will shake people into making some changes like checking their smoke alarms are working, and replacing their batteries twice a year.

“It’s really troublesome. It is really concerning. These are all preventable deaths,” said Godlonton.

B.C.’s fire commissioner plans to unroll a targeted educational campaign in the communities facing the greatest risk this summer.

Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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