Edmonton structure fires more than double during holidays

Edmonton structure fires more than double during holidays

The number of structure fires in Edmonton more than doubled in the final week of 2017, according to data from Edmonton Fire Rescue Services.

Firefighters responded to 8.5 structure fires daily, on average, from Dec. 25, 2017 to Jan. 1, 2018.

The city's average for 2017 was 3.9 structure fires per day.

"We were in a deep freeze for a week," Block said. "Mechanical things fail, people just don't function as effectively as normal when it's that cold.

"They don't think as clearly, they react slower and that's reflected in an increase in call volume."

There were 80 structure and non-structure fires in Edmonton from Dec. 25, 2017 to Jan. 1, 2018. A structure fire involves buildings, while non-structure fires include dumpsters and fields.

- Dec. 30, 2017: Overnight fire engulfs north Edmonton home

- Dec. 31, 2017: Suspicious fire guts garage near Rundle Park

- Jan. 1, 2018: Edmonton firefighters contend with frigid weather to extinguish house fire

In total, Edmonton Fire Rescue Services responded to 1,555 events in eight days. More than half were medical emergencies or alarms.

The spike in calls coincided with an extreme cold warning that blanketed the province. Temperatures in Edmonton hovered around -35 C with wind chill, from Christmas Day to New Year's Eve.

Whenever Edmontonians pull out space heaters and firewood, Block said the number of calls increases. The holiday season compounds the problem, he added. Every year, the number of cooking-related fires in Edmonton is unusually high around Christmas and New Year's.

Firefighters called to battle the flames also face challenging winter conditions.

"It hampers everything," Block said. "We're dealing with water, we're dealing with metal, we're dealing with motorized equipment.

"There's a strain on everything and that's not considering our firefighters and, trust me, it's not fun at -30 C battling an emergency situation."

'It's not to be taken lightly'

Block, a veteran firefighter, said the cold always crystallizes memories of his first mid-winter fire nearly four decades ago.

"You never forget it," Block said. "Everything you grab is slippery, you can't see, you get steam from introducing the water into that frigid air. It's a very challenging experience and it's not to be taken lightly.

"Having said that, it's a pretty cool thing to participate in, too. It's not for everybody, I can say that."

During extremely low temperatures, Edmonton fire crews rotate on-scene roughly every 40 minutes. Firefighters need time to warm up and de-ice their gear before heading back into a blaze, Block said.

He teaches new recruits to take the cold seriously and to look after one another in challenging conditions.

"This is really about adapting, improvising and overcoming," he said. "Credit to our crews, they stick with it and they operate as a team.

"You won't find a firefighter with any quit in them."

Although the city has been granted a reprieve from the bone-chilling cold for the first week of January, winter is far from over.

Block urged Edmontonians to check heaters and wood-burning appliances, as well as the spaces around them, for fire hazards.

"Be prepared," he said. "Pay attention to what you're doing.

"If you are unfortunate enough to have something go wrong, dial 911 and activate the emergency system sooner rather than later."