EYEWITNESS NEWS (WBRE/WYOU)— An estimated 358,500 home fires occur every year according to the National Fire Protection Association. Locally, when fires start in older homes flames rip through them quickly, but why?
Eyewitness News has teamed with our media partner the Times Leader to find out.
“Fires burn far hotter and far faster than they ever have before,” said Wilkes-Barre City Fire Chief Jay Delaney.
The Wilkes-Barre City Fire Department responded to 148 fires in 2022, just one less fire than the previous year. So far in 2023, Eyewitness News has been on the scene of multiple house fires in Diamond City, capturing firefighters in the thick of smoke and dousing flames erupting from homes.
Once the flames are out, the investigation into what caused the fire begins.
Wilkes-Barre City Fire Inspector Francis Evanko has been a firefighter for 25 years and fire inspector for the city for the last four.
He says the cause of the majority of fires in the city are unintentional.
“The biggest cause of house fires is cooking, that’s almost 50 percent of them,” added Evanko.
Evanko says the biggest causes of house fires are heating, electricity, and aging or faulty wiring throughout older homes.
“The coatings on the wire fail, especially in some of the metal coated stuff, they short out, and it’s as simple as a squirrel stepping on it or you are throwing something in your attic,” explained Evanko.
Plus the older the house the fewer the receptacles and the more power is drawn.
“What they used to have, was knob-and-tube and was itself alone in the framework of the house,” continued Evanko.
Modern home buyers often find that existing knob-and-tube systems lack the capacity for today’s level of power use. Talk to a licensed electrician if you think this wiring system is in your home.
Whether your home is old or new the cause of fires are the same, but how firefighters put out a fire at older homes is much different than newer ones.
“Most veteran firefighters in the Wilkes-Barre Fire Department understand if they go to a basement fire, the next hose line they might need is up in the attic,” says Chief Delaney.
That’s due to the balloon-frame construction of the home. Wilkes-Barre Fire Chief Jay Delaney says if a fire starts low…
“There’s no way to stop the combustive products and the fire to sometimes run right up into the attic,” added Chief Delaney. “Most homes built around WWII or thereafter that time frame were built differently than they are built today. A lot of our older housing stock in northeastern Pennsylvania are houses like this.”
Balloon-frame construction lacks horizontal fire stops between the studs inside of the exterior walls. A fire block stops the spread of smoke, flame, and gas, from one concealed space to another.
New construction is mandated to have them, but many older homes lack them.
“It’s hard to retrofit an old house to do that but there are ways it can be done,” said Chief Delaney.
But this is not a do-it-yourself project, get a consultation with a licensed contractor.
Checking out new construction in Luzerne County, flameproof insulation is put into the walls. Any area where there’s a draft or opening around wires will be filled before it can pass an inspection.
There are plenty of pros to having a newer home, but it’s important to remember no home is fireproof.
“The products of combustion, the contents of a house, chairs, couches, mattresses,” says Chief Delaney. “In terms of fighting a fire today, fire is far hotter and travels much quicker and faster than it did 30 to 40 years ago.”
Remember to make sure there are working smoke detectors and fire extinguishers in your home. If you don’t have a working smoke detector check with your local fire department for one.
For more on this story be sure to pick up the Sunday edition of the Times Leader Sunday morning.