Officials offer tips to prevent fires

Early Saturday morning, three sophomores from the University of Minnesota died of smoke inhalation after their off-campus house caught fire.

While officials have yet to release a cause for the blaze, an Eau Claire fire official offered tips to remain safe for students in rental housing units here.

Legal Tenants
Rights Workshop

Time: 7 p.m.
Date: Tuesday
Place: Towers Hall Social Room
Speakers: Lawyer Chris Bloom and police officer Brian Schneider

Inspector Janet Harter said the majority of unnecessary fires can be blamed on inattentive residents.

“I wish I could say, ‘Oh, it’s electric,’ or ‘Oh, it’s gas,’ but it’s not,” Harter said Wednesday.

Unattended candles and cigarettes tend to be the most common causes, she said.

But Harter said there are many simple things renters can do to prevent potentially fatal fires in their homes.

Precautions such as checking fire extinguishers, ensuring exits are clear and testing smoke detectors are a few ways to make homes safer, she said.

For concerns about fire codes and safety, call:
City of Eau Claire Fire Department at 839-4825.

It’s also important to have a plan and a meeting place in case of a fire, Harter said.

“I know that sounds silly,” she said, explaining that students are adults and can take care of themselves. “But how do you know where your roommates are?”

Fire safety is something senior Lindsy Bjorklund said she’s known since she was a youngster. But Bjorklund said that if her Fifth Avenue house ever caught fire she would most likely panic and not have time to think about safety procedures.

“I don’t really worry about it much,” she said. “I really don’t know what I’d do.”

However, Bjorklund said she is aware of various ways to get out of her house.

John Grafenauer, co-owner of Apex Rentals in Eau Claire, said student renters almost never inquire about fire safety.

He echoed Harter’s concern about unattended candles and said that in the lease, Apex Rentals asks tenants not to burn candles in the house.

“We’ve only had one small little fire in 27 years and it was because of candles,” Grafenauer said. The incident happened about 10 years ago and only caused minor smoke damage to a bedroom, he said.

Grafenauer said he tries to do everything possible to ensure his homes are up to fire code.

“I guess we’ve taken every step we can,” he said. “(Tenants) need to take responsibilities as well.”

A city ordinance that has been in effect for about 10 years states that all homes with five or more residents must be equipped with hard-wired smoke detectors, as opposed to battery-operated, Harter said.

All of Grafenauer’s homes are equipped with these smoke detectors. But, he said, sometimes renters will unplug them, possibly while cooking, and won’t reconnect the detectors.

“That’s the responsibility of the renters,” he said. “But you are going to have some places where they do that.”

Bjorklund said excessive drinking has a big effect on fire safety.

Harter agreed.

“If you’re smashed and you come home and decide to put something in the oven,” there’s a chance something could happen, Harter said.

If students are going to have parties, she said, they should have at least one person stay sober just in case something goes wrong.

“These are things students can do to provide their own safety,” she said.