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'Out of Control': Maryland Fire Marshal issues warning after deaths double

‘Out of Contol’ Maryland Fire Marshal issues warning after deaths double
‘Out of Contol’ Maryland Fire Marshal issues warning after deaths double 02:52

BALTIMORE -- The number of fatal fires is more than double what Maryland State Fire Marshal Brian Geraci typically sees in the first three months of the year, and he is sounding the alarm.

Geraci said there have been almost 40 fire-related fatalities in the first three months of the year when fewer than 20 are typically reported during that time period.

"We've never seen the fire death rate this high in the first three months of the year for decades. You'd have to go back to a time when people didn't have smoke alarms," Geraci told WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren. "This year, it has just gone crazy. It's out of control."

He wrote an open letter urging people across the state to follow basic fire safety protocols. 

"I will tell you that fires these days burn faster and hotter and produce toxic smoke that can kill you quickly," Geraci said in the letter. "Fire does not discriminate; it can be present in your home on any given day or night when we see these fires the most. You have the least amount of time to escape a fire in your home than at any other time in history."

Last week in Pasadena, an Anne Arundel County officer was able to save lives by alerting a man to the fact that his home was on fire.

Police body-camera video shows him talking to a resident who had no idea the rear of his home was engulfed in flames, and he had only minutes to escape with his pets. 

"You have two or three minutes once that smoke alarm sounds to get out of your house," Geraci said. 

He told Hellgren he has written to local fire departments urging them to get out in the community and make sure people have working smoke detectors. 

"All of them are preventable. …These incidents are preventable and don't have to happen," Geraci said.

He noted cooking is the number one cause of fires. 

"We had one woman with a loose-fitting bathrobe," he said. "She caught her clothing on fire, and she perished right there on the kitchen floor."

Geraci said two people have died this year in Maryland after going back inside their homes to retrieve belongings.

He said modern homes have layouts that often allow flames to spread faster. "Now, there's no walls," he said. "It's open concept. That fire can go through that house, and everything gets ignited. It happens very quickly."

There have been eight fires that have killed multiple victims. 

One of them happened in West Baltimore. That's where three young children died, including 7-year-old Skye Blue. Her father talked to WJZ about his loss. 

"She was full of life, always smiling, always wanted to dance, loved all her brothers and sisters, grandmothers and aunts," Blue said days after his daughter's death. "She was a daddy's girl man…she was everything a father could want in a little girl you know," 

On Friday, Baltimore County's fire department identified 63-year-old Jeffrey Thomas Swimm as the victim of a fatal fire in Catonsville on March 28.

Baltimore City's fire union tweeted they are dealing with an equipment shortage.

Geraci offered the following tips for staying safe in the event of a fire:

  • Have working smoke alarms on every level of your home, outside each sleeping area and inside each bedroom. Battery-only alarms must be a ten-year sealed battery alarm. Call the local fire department or the State Fire Marshal's Office if you need smoke alarms. They are free, and we will even install them for you. 

  • At night, make sure all bedroom doors are closed, and be sure to close all doors behind you when you are escaping a fire. This will prevent the spread of smoke and fire throughout your home and give you time to be rescued if trapped by a fire.

  • Meet with your family and develop an escape plan, have two ways out of every room. Make sure door locks are openable without using a key, and that bedroom windows are operational from the inside. Have a meeting place outside the home so your family can ensure everyone got out. 

  • Get out and Stay Out Always! Once out, NEVER EVER go back inside a burning building! You will not come back out alive. 

  • Once out, make that 911 call immediately to the fire department to get them started as soon as possible. 

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