Cause of 2 fires is determined

Malfunctioning outlet, heater blamed in blazes

By Patty Hastings, Columbian breaking news reporter

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Fire investigators have determined the cause of two September fires.

On the evening of Sept. 20, fire destroyed a manufactured home in Sifton Gardens Mobile Estates, 5900 N.E. 131st Ave., south of Fourth Plain Road.

The cause was a malfunctioning kitchen outlet, said Vancouver Fire Marshal Heidi Scarpelli.

The loss of the double-wide manufactured home was estimated at $176,000 for the structure and its contents. The insurance company will determine a true dollar loss, Scarpelli said. Porches, desks and other outside additions are often attached to manufactured homes after they’re built.

Three people were displaced, and their two dogs and two pythons died in the fire.

The second fire, which occurred in the afternoon of Sept. 25, gutted a 472-square-foot house in the Rose Village neighborhood. The unintentional fire was sparked by a clothing basket that was near a wall heater in one of the home’s two bedrooms, Scarpelli said.

During the summer, these kind of wall heaters don’t kick on and people may start storing belongings in front of them. When it gets to be fall, they can automatically turn on and can catch nearby flammable materials on fire. People should treat all heaters as though they turn on automatically and keep them clear of furniture or storage items, Scarpelli said.

The Vancouver Fire Department is recognizing October as Fire Prevention Month by teaching fire safety, fire prevention and escape planning to fourth-graders in the Evergreen and Vancouver school districts. Fire corps volunteers will teach kindergartners basic fire safety tips, as well.

Scarpelli said it’s critical for homeowners to have working smoke detectors, calling it the “cheapest form of life insurance,” but she added that people should also understand fire dangers.

“If we can just change people’s behavior a little bit, we can make a big difference,” Scarpelli said. “If you can change your behavior, you’re not going to have to rely on your smoke detector.”

According to the National Fire Protection Agency, a house fire is reported every 85 seconds and two out of every five home fires starts in the kitchen. Kitchen fires are a chief focus for Vancouver’s fire education efforts.