After a 57-year-old woman died in a Yakima mobile-home fire last week, firefighters are reminding people to take steps to prevent house fires, as well as prepare to respond if one happens.
“You need to have an escape plan,” said Yakima fire chief Aaron Markham. “You need an alternate plan if your normal escape route is blocked by fire.”
Markham and Yakima County Fire District 5 Deputy Chief Ken Robillard said residents should also make sure they have working smoke detectors and are not overloading electrical outlets.
And, if you insist on frying your Thanksgiving turkey this year, do it outdoors and follow the instructions for the cooker, the fire officials said.
Markham and Robillard say fatal fires are rare in the area. Between 2014 and 2018, 10 people died in fires in Yakima County, according to coroner’s records and news reports.
On Tuesday, Renee Leighty, 57, died as a result of a fire in her East Alder Street mobile home. Firefighters pulled her out of the burning structure and CPR was performed on her, officials said.
An autopsy determined she died from smoke inhalation, Yakima County Coroner Jim Curtice said. Fire officials said several dogs and cats also died in the fire.
U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents and Yakima fire investigators are searching for the cause of the fire, Markham said.
One step residents can take to protect themselves is installing smoke detectors in their homes, the fire officials said.
Markham and Robillard, whose district covers most of the Lower Valley, said residents should swap out the battery in smoke detectors twice a year, and they suggest using the switch between daylight saving and standard time as the reminder. But, Markham said, there are now smoke detectors that have a battery that is designed to last for the lifetime of the detector — about 10 years.
A detector’s manufacturing date is printed on the back, Markham said, and people should get new detectors if theirs are too old.
Yakima Fire Department also has a program in which firefighters will install smoke detectors for people who cannot afford them. The department purchases the detectors through a grant, and Markham said firefighters install about 300 a year.
For information on the program, call the department at 509-575-6060.
Robillard said the more common causes of house fires are electrical problems, such as overloaded outlets and overuse of extension cords, and cooking fires.
“Most have to do with electrical, one way or the other,” Robillard said.
Along with not overloading outlets, people should also make sure that electric heaters are not plugged in to extension cords and are far enough away from combustible material, Robillard said.
In the case of cooking fires, Robillard said the best thing to do is cover the pot or pan and take it off the heat. The cover will smother the fire, he said. Water is not advised because it will cause a grease-based fire to spread, he warned.
As for turkey fryers, where the bird is cooked in boiling oil, the firefighters said if people insist on doing it, they should follow all the instructions, including not overfilling the cooker with oil and ensuring the turkey is completely thawed
before it is lowered into the oil.
Markham said people should also be careful with candles, keeping them away from anything that can catch fire.
In formulating an escape plan, Markham said people should ensure that their bedrooms have the windows required by building codes. Unless the room has a window — and a window well in the case of a basement room — large enough for an adult to climb out, the room should not be used as sleeping quarters, Markham said.
“Not all basement rooms were intended to be occupied as sleeping rooms,” Markham said.
And, while it is tempting to sleep with a bedroom door open to hear what is happening in the house, Markham said it is safer to keep the door closed. It will keep the
fire and smoke out of the room longer than if it is open.