Simple precautions can reduce risk of house fires

Anna Nelson

Imagine coming home to nothing. Your stereo, CDs, TV, bed and dresser are gone. Except for some clothes, most of your possessions were destroyed by fire.

Sophomore Jamie Cleeremans knows what that’s like.

Cleeremans’ room, in a house she leased at 138 Chippewa St., was damaged by fire Feb. 24. It was the third student house fire in a two-month period, raising concerns for what students can do to prevent fires in their homes.

Fire inspector Jim Onarheim said his investigation found that something failed inside Cleeremans’ computer monitor while it was in sleep mode, sparking a fire.

“You really don’t think it’s going to happen to you,” said Cleeremans, who estimated the fire caused a little more than $8,000 in damage.

Cleeremans’ possessions were covered by her parents’ insurance, which is one of the things students leasing homes should check on to protect themselves.

Julie Nelson, office manager for State Farm Insurance, 2600 Stein Blvd., said students probably don’t look into what type of insurance they have unless their landlords require them to look into it.

She said she’d encourage students to look into their parents’ insurance, because some insurance companies may not cover students at college.

“Most insurance companies would still consider them a member of the household,” Nelson said.

If not, students have to buy renter’s insurance to cover their personal property.

Although Onarheim said Cleeremans’ situation is not something he often hears about, but the more computers people have, the more there is the potential of these types of fires happening. But it’s not electricity that starts fires, he said, it’s what people plug into it.

“The more junk you have, the more potential you have for a problem,” Onarheim said. He said turning off or unplugging one’s computer rather than leaving it in sleep mode can reduce fire risks.

Onarheim said landlords are required to go through the house being leased with tenants checking the smoke detectors. He said if tenants have a problem with landlords not fixing fire safety problems, to call the Fire Department.

Robin Hall, manager of University Area Housing, 301 Water St., said students should check their smoke detector every month.

Triplex structures and up, including rooming houses, which by law are structures that houses more than four people, need electrical hardwired smoke detectors, Onarheim said.

They should be tested monthly by pushing the button on them.

Onarheim said with electrical detectors, students don’t have to replace batteries and the detectors are more sensitive to fire smoke, as opposed to smoke from cigarettes or burnt food.