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Mitchell fire stats swing wildly for the better

This Jan. 7 house fire was one of only five serious structure fires in Mitchell so far this year. Through August, there have been 18 fires in the city, according to the Mitchell Fire Division. That's 44 fewer than the same time period last year. (Daily Republic file photo)

After an exceptionally busy year for fires in 2012, things have cooled down for the Mitchell Fire Division.

Through August, 18 fires have caused approximately $245,800 in property damage this year in Mitchell, according to monthly reports prepared by the Mitchell Fire Division. That's 44 fewer fires than the same time period last year, and less than one-fifth the amount of property damage.

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Of those 18 fires, only five have been serious structure fires, according to Mitchell Fire Marshall Marius Laursen. And of those five structure fires, only one resulted in a total loss -- a Jan. 7 house fire at 219 E. Seventh Ave. caused by a child playing with a lighter.

"It's just weird how you'll get a very busy year like last year and then this year we don't obviously have that problem," Laursen said.

In total, there were 82 fires last year in the city, 25 more than the year before. Those fires caused nearly $1.54 million in property damage, the reports say, about six times the total for 2011, when 57 fires caused $254,365 in damage. In 2010, 57 fires caused $398,605 in property damage. See more here.

This year's decline in fires, much like last year's increase, can't be attributed to any particular cause, Laursen said. The Mitchell Fire Division did all it could to stress fire safety in light of last year's fires -- even going so far as to hand out smoke detectors door to door -- but fires are still largely random and unpredictable.

"Next year, we might have another busy year for whatever reason," Laursen said. "It's so tough to predict anything like that."

The number and cost of fires has been sporadic from month to month so far this year, as it was last year.

In two months this year -- January and May -- the reports say fires caused approximately $228,500 in damage. In four other months -- March, June, July and August -- no fire-related property damage was reported at all.

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.

There have been no fire-related fatalities this year in Mitchell.

The Mitchell Fire Division, which also runs the city's ambulance service, has 21 full-time firefighters, Laursen said, and each one is also a trained EMT.

"The fire side appears to be slow," he said, "but we're still really busy on the EMS side."

Last year, the city's ambulance service received an average of 28 emergency medical calls per month. Through July, that average has dropped to 22 calls per month this year.

To stay busy, Laursen said firefighters take part in various training exercises each day, do safety inspections of local businesses, perform maintenance and inventory equipment, and take part in educational talks at schools and other venues.