In the last five years, there have been 150 building fires in Holland.
If there’s a fire in a residential building in Holland, there’s a good chance that fire started in the kitchen.
Of all the building fires in the city, cooking fires are the leading cause of fire in Holland.
“Everybody has a kitchen,” said Holland Fire Department Capt. Chris Tinney. “It doesn’t matter where you live, cooking fires are the leading factors of fire in the city of Holland. That’s huge.”
Tinney said not only are kitchen fires the most frequent type of fire in Holland, they’re also the most preventable type.
Holland fires by area of origin, 2012-17
Kitchen - 35
Other (trash, parking lot, exits, etc.) - 14
Bedroom - 13
Wall/ceiling/floor - 11
Manufacturing/workroom/sales area - 16
Garage/carport - 12
Porch/roof/exterior - 15
Heating room - 10
Attic/crawlspace - four
Storage - four
Bathroom - three
Hallway/stairway - two
Laundry room - three
Living room - two
Dining room - two
Office - one
Undetermined - one
Multiple areas- two
In the last five years, there has been 150 building fires in Holland. Of those, 106 fires were residential and 44 were commercial. Within that data, there were 35 kitchen fires, 32 of which happened in residential buildings. Twenty-five percent of fires in single-family homes are kitchen fires in Holland, and 46 percent of fire in multifamily homes or apartments start in the kitchen. Overall, 30.2 percent of all residential fires in Holland are cooking fires.
Holland is not alone in this trend. Based off data from the U.S. Fire Administration, 50.8 percent of national residential fires in 2015 were caused by cooking.
Within Holland, there are hot spots where fires are more likely to occur, mostly due to population density. This area is north of 24th Street and west of Fairbanks Avenue. Looking at the number of fires in the last five years in Holland, Tinney said building fires are relatively infrequent. That doesn’t mean it’s not a problem, though.
“Fire may not be a huge problem for residents, but when it does happen, it’s serious,” he said. “We see a lot of cooking area fires, and the reason I zoom in on these is because it’s the most preventable. This is staring at us.”
Knowing kitchen fires are the most probable type of fire in the city isn’t enough, though. The Holland Fire Department has started to identify educational opportunities to prevent major loss of property and encourage residents to have a fire plan for their family.
Most kitchen fires are accidental. They can begin with a faulty appliance, an unattended stove or too-hot cooking oil, among other things. One of the reasons kitchen fires can get out of hand so quickly is because the common sense fire suppression tactics don’t work on a kitchen fire. Putting water on a cooking oil fire will only make the fire worse, spreading the flames faster. Similarly, using a portable fire extinguisher is not advised. When the pressurized fire extinguisher moves toward the fire, the pressure may make hot oils or sauce come back toward the person putting out the kitchen fire, causing serious injury.
“If we can’t prevent kitchen fires, then what are people doing when they see it?” Tinney said. “Putting water on a cooking fire is the worst thing to do. Putting the lid on it and turning the heat off is what you need to do.”
If the flames are small and containable, throwing a nonflammable powder like salt on the fire is also recommended. But if the flames are growing, the best thing to do is get out.
“Understand that the fire may be too big to deal with yourself,” Tinney said. “If you can’t do it, leave the area and take everyone with you. Don’t delay. If the fire is already reaching the cabinets, it’s too late. Don’t waste precious time trying to put the fire out yourself.”
Some cooking fires are preventable. Leaving a heat source unattended or cooking while intoxicated is never advised. Using too much oil or too high a heat setting can be avoided. Keeping plastic containers and food packaging off the stove also may prevent a fire emergency.
Things like electrical or equipment failures, however, aren’t always avoidable. When a fire does start in the kitchen, having a working smoke alarm nearby to notify residents is crucial for minimizing damage or loss of life.
Of the 35 kitchen fires in Holland since 2012, 31 of those locations had smoke detectors present. Four of the locations had an unknown smoke detector presence. A present smoke detector doesn’t mean it’s working, though. Tinney said he’s walked into homes where fires happened and saw the smoke detector sitting on a counter.
“Present doesn’t mean working,” Tinney said. “We’ve got good compliance with smoke detectors as far as having them, but maintenance is where it’s not great.”
This can occasionally be complicated in rental units. The responsibility of maintaining a smoke detector should be shared between the landlord and the tenant, Tinney said.
Smoke detectors need to be replaced every 10 years, and the batteries need to be changed twice a year. When residents reset their clocks for daylight saving time, they should also replace their smoke detector batteries.
Following cooking fires, the next most likely place for a fire to originate in Holland buildings is a manufacturing or commercial workspace fire. Third on the list is the porch, roof or exterior of a building. No matter where a fire starts, discussing a plan of what to do with family members can help with a quick and orderly evacuation.
“The bigger picture is to have an escape plan and have everyone in that residence know what that plan is,” Tinney said. “Have two ways out and a meeting place. Identify how you’re going to call 911 and never go back in. If you’re worried about your pets, most of the time they’ll follow you out. They’re smarter than we are.”
Tinney also advises shutting the door of the room where the fire is contained to minimize its available oxygen.
With all fires, particularly kitchen fires, human activity can be a strong contributing factor. Because of that, Tinney and his team are continuing to educate the community about those risks.
“Fire, to me, is a behavioral issue,” he said. “It’s human, most fires are accidental. We identify what these issues are and now we’re calling attention to it. We know these are accidental fires and we know the area of origin.
“There are human factors here. We’re not saying you did anything wrong, but it’s preventable.”
HOLLAND, Mich. — A woman whose boyfriend sparked a 2012 apartment fire using a blowtorch on a squirrel is on the hook for $2 million in damages to the Holland Township complex, the Court of Appeals says.
Today’s ruling reverses a lower court decision that held Barbara Pellows responsible for only $15,400 in damages caused by the Oct. 10 blaze that consumed 32 units at Clearview Apartments.
The woman’s boyfriend had been using a blowtorch to remove fur from the squirrel on a wooden deck. Owners of the complex say cooking a squirrel on the deck violated her rental agreement.
Even though her boyfriend caused the fire, Pellows is still liable under a lease agreement for what justices described as a “fur-burning escapade.’’
“Because defendant signed the lease agreement, she is presumed to have read and understood its contents,’’ the three-judge panel wrote.
Dozens of people at Clearview Apartments near 120th Avenue and Riley Street in Holland Township lost everything in the fire. Insurance carrier Travelers Indemnity Company shelled out more than $2 million to repair damage.
The boyfriend left the torch on the deck and went into the apartment. When he returned 15 minutes later, he discovered the fire. “His attempts to extinguish the fire proved unsuccessful,’’ justices noted in the unpublished decision released Wednesday.
The lease agreement held her responsible for fire damage caused by negligent or intentional activity. Pellows argued that she was not liable for damages under the Michigan Truth in Renting Act and the Michigan Consumer Protection Act.
The Court of Appeals says it is a breach-of-contract lawsuit. Her contention that provisions of the lease agreement “were never explained to her’’ don’t hold water. The law does not require that the landlord “read and explain’’ the lease agreement she signed, justices wrote.
Its five-page decision directs the Ottawa County Circuit Court judge who handled the case to rule in the insurance company’s favor and “determine the appropriate amount of damages’’ owed, which the insurance company says tops $2 million.