Special weeks or days designated for a certain cause sometimes come and go without notice.
However, a Mount Airy public safety official is using the occasion of Fire Prevention Week on Oct. 8-14 to focus on an issue that’s become a matter of life and death locally.
“What we’d like to get across is cooking fires are the number one cause of fires in the city of Mount Airy,” Fire Chief Zane Poindexter said Tuesday. Poindexter estimates that 70 percent of all fire-related incidents here are related to cooking, with 18 total incidents occurring last year through various causes.
“That’s about normal for a small municipality,” he said of the total.
Farther down the list of causes are electrical fires, blazes related to a heating issue and incendiary (or intentionally set) fires.
While none of last year’s incidents involved fatalities, the memory of an earlier one is still fresh on the minds of local public safety personnel, an accidental cooking fire on Banner Street which claimed the life of a 2-year-old boy in December 2014. It was the first fire death in the city of Mount Airy in more than 20 years.
More recently, in early September, a 95-year-old woman suffered smoke inhalation as the result of a cooking-related fire at her residence on West Lebanon Street.
One of the key points the city fire chief wants to get across this week to local residents involves the need to stay in the kitchen and closely monitor foods being fried, broiled or grilled.
“It’s a rough guess, but I would say 70 to 80 percent of all cooking fires are due to them being unattended,” Poindexter said of items on the stove.
Another point of emphasis is people not cooking while intoxicated, in order to keep their wits about them and remain aware of what is occurring.
“Also, don’t use the stove for storage,” the fire chief advised.
If someone doesn’t cook a lot or employs a microwave oven more than a conventional stove, they sometimes place items on the latter which accumulate and can catch fire when the conventional stove is used.
They will turn on a burner of the stove which they think is open, but fall into a common trap. “They will turn on the wrong eye that they’ve got the combustible materials stored on,” Poindexter explained.
This was the case with the September blaze involving the elderly woman, who had been trying to fix a cup of hot chocolate when a potato chip bag on top of her kitchen stove caught fire and the flames spread.
The death of the child in 2014 prompted an ongoing campaign to ensure working smoke detectors were installed in homes in high-risk areas of town, due to no detector existing in his residence.
Mount Airy Fire Department members have canvassed a number of neighborhoods since, including in late September when they got a head start on Fire Prevention Week by conducting a smoke-detector campaign in the area of Nelson Hill and Leonard roads.
“If they do have a kitchen fire, they can be notified,” Poindexter said of how detectors help residents in such cases, “especially if they should happen to fall asleep or something like that has occurred.”
Using a timer also can serve as a reminder that food is being cooked.
If a small grease or cooking fire does occur, safety officials recommend sliding a lid over the pan, turning off the burner and leaving the pan covered until completely cool.
With oven fires, they advise turning off the heat and keeping the door closed.
Poindexter said that in addition to cooking-related incidents being targeted during Fire Prevention Week, its theme for 2017 is “Every second counts — plan two ways out.” This encourages families to be proactive as far as escape routes, so they are prepared if the need arises.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.