Charges could send message to irresponsible smokers whose cigarettes start fires: Edmonton fire chief

Click to play video: 'Cigarettes in planters causing too many Edmonton fires'
Cigarettes in planters causing too many Edmonton fires
WATCH ABOVE: Edmonton’s fire chief says education campaigns are not doing enough to stop people from improperly disposing smoking materials. As Quinn Ohler explains, Ken Block also wants tougher legal teeth – Aug 1, 2018

Edmonton Fire Rescue Chief Ken Block says he believes that education isn’t working when it comes to what he calls “irresponsible smokers” starting expensive and dangerous fires in the city, and that more needs to be done to stop it.

The comments were made on Wednesday and come after Edmonton Fire Rescue investigators determined a fire that forced dozens of people from their homes early Sunday morning was caused by a cigarette being put out in potting soil. Edmonton police said no charges are being contemplated at this time.

READ MORE: $14M Blue Quill apartment fire caused by cigarette in potting soil: Edmonton Fire

Apartment fires, like the one in Blue Quill, have more than just a financial impact, Block said.

“We have been very fortunate over the years that there haven’t been significant injuries or worse, fire deaths,” the fire chief explained.

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The improper disposal of cigarettes also puts the lives of his firefighters at risk, Block said.

“How sad would it be if we were to lose a fire rescue member responding to something so preventable as a smoker’s improperly discarded cigarette?”

READ MORE: Pregnant woman escapes Blue Quill apartment fire, one week before scheduled delivery for baby with heart defect

Block said he’d like to see those responsible be held accountable but as it stands, that hasn’t happened.

“There is a charge out there called arson by negligence,” Block said. “The burden of proof on that is very high, is our understanding.”

Block said the legal team for Edmonton Fire Rescue has advised that in previous cases, the chances of prosecution were low.

“They’ve recommended not carrying it forward,” he said, adding he would like to see the team look at these instances “through a different lens” in hopes of curbing the issue.

“Perhaps if we did pursue it through the courts and there was a conviction, that may send a strong enough message,” he said.

READ MORE: One cigarette causes $1M in damages in southeast Edmonton

“This is a very pervasive problem,” Block said. “Over the last decade [or] 15 years, this keeps repeating year after year after year and we’ve identified the root cause of the problem and clearly that’s smokers who are extinguishing cigarettes inappropriately in planters.”
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An Edmonton Fire Rescue Services (EFRS) program called “Stub it Right, Don’t Ignite” works to remind smokers the proper way to dispose of their materials.

According to the program’s web page, more than $60 million in damage has been caused since 2010 due to improperly disposed of smokers’ material.

To date in 2018, there have been 54 fires related to smokers’ materials, with an estimated $19.3 million in property loss, EFRS said.

In 2017 there was $3.5 million in property loss due to 63 fires caused by careless smoking and there was $5.4 million in damage done in 88 fires in 2016.

READ MORE: Damage from smoking-related fires is on disturbing upward trend in Edmonton

Block also said he believes that building owners and condo association boards have a role to play and should monitor and enforce smoking rules in their building. He also said they should provide proper receptacles for smokers where it’s allowed.

The Alberta government’s fire commissioner, Kevan Jess, said the Alberta fire code requires that ashtrays be provided where smoking is permitted, but does not specifically require ashtrays on balconies.

“This type of fire is preventable and we want to remind all Albertans about the importance of disposing of any smoking materials in an ashtray or other appropriate receptacle,” Jess said.

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“Since 2009, the Alberta Building Code requires all balconies to be clad in non-combustible materials, or protected by a sprinkler system, to help protect against fire,” Jess said. “This requirement is inspected and enforced at the time of construction.”

Block said he would also like to see sprinkler systems in all new residential buildings moving forward, but in the end, it all comes down to those putting out those cigarettes.

“Top of mind would be for smokers to figure this out, and extinguish their cigarettes in an appropriate fashion,” he said.

With files from Kirby Bourne, 630 CHED

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