Dramatic increase in fires in Mitchell in 2012, report showsDamage was six times greater than in 2011, with $1.5 million reported.
By: Chris Mueller, The Daily Republic
The sound of sirens and the smell of smoke became all too familiar for Mitchell residents in 2012.
There were 82 fires last year in Mitchell, 25 more than last year, according to monthly reports prepared by the Mitchell Fire Division.
Those fires caused more than $1.52 million in property damage last year in Mitchell, the reports say, which is nearly six times the total for 2011 when 57 fires caused $254,365 in damage. In 2010, 57 fires caused $398,605 in property damage.
The trend, though alarming, can’t be pinned on any particular cause, said Assistant Fire Chief Paul Morris said.
“We’ve talked about it a lot around the station,” Morris said. “There is nothing we can point at specifically and say this is what caused it.”
Fires accounted for just 14 percent of the incidents the Mitchell Fire Division responded to last year but caused 98 percent of all property damage, the reports say.
Month to month, the number and cost of fires varied widely in 2012.
In January, the reports say just two fires did $750,000 in damage, but in July, 12 fires — the highest monthly total of the year — did only $7,000 in damage. Most, if not all, of the $750,000 in damage done in January 2012 is linked to a fire that destroyed a large home near Lake Mitchell.
Morris, who began working in the Mitchell area as a firefighter and paramedic in 1998, said last year was one of the busiest years for fires he can remember.
“We’ll take the lessons we learned from those fires to educate and warn people about the dangers of various fire hazards,” Morris said.
Even with the drought withering acre after acre of rural land, grass fires weren’t much of a factor in last year’s totals, a fact Morris credits to a countywide burn ban in place from mid-July to late October.
Two people died as a result of fires last year in Mitchell. On Sept. 29, 59-year-old Cheryl Roop was killed in a fire that burned down her trailer home at 900 W. Second Ave., Lot 43; and on April 21, 3-year-old Jaxon Sehnert died of smoke inhalation after a fire at his family’s home at 222 W. Sixth Ave.
Seeing the destruction and loss of life can wear on firefighters, Morris said.
“It never makes us happy to go to a fire,” he said. “But if there is going to be one, we want to be there.”
Still, last year’s fires provided valuable experience for the city’s firefighters in live, uncontrolled situations, Morris said.
“Every fire we go to, we learn something,” he said. “And that increases our skills and abilities to go out and fight the next one.”
It didn’t take long for last year’s trend to spill over into 2013. On Jan. 7, a home at 219 E. Seventh Ave. was declared a total loss as a result of a fire. The value of the home was found to be approximately $85,000 plus $8,500 worth of contents, Morris said.
Morris and other officials have continually stressed the importance of smoke detectors, and last year’s trend provided an opportunity to reemphasize that importance.
“Because of the fires we had last year, we really hit on those smoke detectors, we really hit on fire safety,” Morris said.
The Mitchell Fire Division provides one free smoke detector per family upon request.