A series of house fires since the start of the month in the Bangor area highlights how the blazes become more common in the colder months.
A Tuesday evening fire destroyed a Hermon home after a leaking propane tank exploded. Another house fire on Sunday destroyed an Orono home that was being renovated. A week before that, Bangor saw the state’s deadliest fire since 2016, when three homeless men died in a fire at a condemned home on Union Street.
The three deaths in that fire have made 2021 Maine’s deadliest year for fires in recent memory, with 27 people perishing in fires so far this year.
Not only has this year been especially deadly for fires. Firefighters have been responding to more fires in general during the pandemic, including more during daytime hours as more people remain at home to work, said Joe Thomas, Maine’s state fire marshal.
Fires tend to occur more frequently in the winter months as people turn on the heat. The number of fires in one- and two-family homes nationwide occurred most often in cooler months, peaking in January, according to a U.S. Fire Administration report that analyzed reported fires between 2017 and 2019.
The available data on Maine fires reflect the same trend, with chimney fires and space heaters often to blame, Thomas said.
“We see a lot of fires started by insufficient clearance of combustibles from heating sources,” he said, pointing to build up of creosote in poorly maintained chimneys as an example.
“Those hazards are related to the heating, which happens in the wintertime, and so that particular cause is more dramatic in the winter than in the summer.”
The number of fires in Maine has also increased as more people have stayed home during the pandemic. There were 221 more reported fires in 2020 than in 2019, according to the latest state fire marshal’s annual report.
“We’re seeing all of the same things that we normally do, [but] we’re just seeing more of them,” Thomas said.
More fires are also occurring during daylight hours, when people would normally be at work or otherwise away from home, he said.
Fires are most common between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., when people return home from work and engage in potentially hazardous activities, he said, but fire departments have responded more frequently to daytime calls in the last year.
“The fact that we are seeing fires during the daytime hours tells me that it’s because people are associated with those fire hazards,” he said.
The state fire marshal’s office is still investigating the causes of the three recent Bangor-area fires, Thomas said.