Md. fire marshal sounds alarm over dramatic spike in fire deaths in 2023

If the trend doesn’t end, Maryland is on track to see one of its deadliest years in decades when it comes to fires.

At least 40 people in the state have died so far this year in fires, which is more than double what Maryland saw during this same period last year, according to State Fire Marshal Brian Geraci.

“The fires are burning hotter, they’re burning faster, and the toxic gases that they’re producing are killing people much more quickly,” Geraci told WTOP.

He said the numbers are concerning, especially when comparing deaths in the first three months of this year to the total 51 deaths in 2020. That year had the lowest number of fire deaths seen in the state.

“The things that are in furniture now, the flammability of furnishings, open floor settings, all contribute to that fire spread and that rapid fire spread and growth,” said Geraci.

He said many of the synthetic materials in furniture are to blame for the rapid spread of fires. Kitchen fires remain the number one call for fire departments in the state.

“People fall asleep, or they get on the phone, or they go outside and get distracted. Next thing you know, your kitchen is on fire,” Geraci said.

Additionally, Geraci said leaving doors open when exiting during a fire can be a deadly decision, especially in apartment buildings. Geraci said last month’s deadly Silver Spring apartment fire is an example of that. That blaze claimed the life of 25-year-old Melanie Diaz.

“The case we saw in Silver Spring, that the high-rise doors were left open, smoke gets in the hall, fire goes into hallway, goes into stairwells and we lose Ms. Diaz,” Geraci said.

He also said among the deaths this year were two people who went back into burning homes. Geraci said that is something that should never be done.

“If you go back inside a burning house, you’re not gonna come back out alive,” he said.

He also said, in most cases, a person should not try to fight a fire with a fire extinguisher.

“Unless it’s the size of a trash can, don’t even bother. Don’t fool with something on the stove, get out of your house, get out and stay out,” Geraci said.

In addition to writing an open letter about this to Marylanders, Geraci said he has also written to all the fire chiefs in the state.

“We’ve got to get back into communities, we got to get back knocking on doors, you gotta start checking smoke alarms, and making sure people have working smoke alarms in their home,” Geraci said.

Despite fire alarms being mandated by law, Geraci said many of their investigations conclude that a home either didn’t have smoke alarms, or the ones installed were not working properly.

He provided these fire safety tips for everyone to follow:

  • Have working smoke alarms on every level of your home, outside each sleeping area and inside each bedroom. Battery-only alarms must be a ten-year sealed battery alarm. Call the local fire department or the State Fire Marshal’s Office if you need smoke alarms. They are free, and we will even install them for you.
  • At night, make sure all bedroom doors are closed, and be sure to close all doors behind you when you escaping a fire. This will prevent the spread of smoke and fire throughout your home and give you time to be rescued if trapped by a fire.
  • Meet with your family and develop an escape plan, have two ways out of every room. Make sure door locks are operable without using a key, and that bedroom windows are operational from the inside. Have a meeting outside the home so your family can ensure everyone got out.
  • Get out and stay out always! Once out, never, ever, go back inside a burning building. You may not come back out alive.
  • Once out, call 911 immediately and alert the fire department to get them to your residence as soon as possible.

Geraci said it is important to remember that while more fires are seen in the most populated areas of the state, like Baltimore, as well Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, deadly fires happen all over the state.

“Fire doesn’t discriminate,” he said.

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Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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