St. George fire chief talks fire hazards in student apartments after recent blazes

Share This:

Smokey Bear has a relevant motto we all know and practice. 

The quote “Only you can prevent wildfires” translates from wilderness to your own home and other indoor areas. 

The new year brought two fires in apartments surrounding Dixie State University, forcing fire safety off the back burner for students residing in dorms. 

The first apartment fire of the semester occurred in January. Flames caused by a short in a breaker box at Avalon Apartments resulted in the building to lose power and students to be evacuated for over an hour.

The second fire took place at Canyonlands Apartments in February. A storage room filled with appliances and cardboard was the confirmed source. A plugged-in stove stored in the room sparked the flames.

St. George Fire Chief Robert Stoker said both Avalon and Canyonlands apartments met the safety codes they were built under. 

“The new student housing codes require hardwired smoke detectors, so if one goes off, they all go off,” Stoker said. “There will also be a fire detector in every room, whereas the older dorms only required detectors in the commons areas.”

DSU Fire Marshal Josh Thayn said the most common campus fires at DSU are caused by electric malfunctions and unsafe cooking. Actions such as overloading outlets, wiring multiple cords together in daisy chains, and using temporary wiring as permanent wiring are likely to cause fires.

“Hopefully everybody takes the opportunity to look at their emergency operation plan and emergency procedures so they can know what they can do to keep themselves and others safe,” Thayn said.

The St. George City Fire Department inspects public buildings for fire code violations. Stoker said student housing falls under a somewhat private residence, but managers are usually more than happy to grant access to the duty crew for a safety inspection.

“Our on-duty crews are always doing inspections,” Stoker said. “We try to require as much safety as possible.”

Stoker said placing barbecue grills too close to the building and using walkway stairways for storage are some of the fire hazard violations at the apartments.  

“It’s always important to keep a clean house,” said Ken Guard, St. George Fire Department battalion chief. “Most of the structure fires we find throughout the year are usually in an unclean environment. Stuff laying around in [an] unorganized [living space] potentially causes problems.”

Guard said keeping fresh batteries in smoke detectors and setting timers on baked goods in the oven can go a long way, but there are other imperative measures that often need attention in order to properly exercise fire safety.

“We went through Canyonlands and checked the smoke detectors,” Stoker said. “Sometimes people take out the batteries because the ones in their remote controls are dead. We always see stuff like that.”

Resident assistants are expected to keep a watchful eye over the rooms when inspection crews are saving the day elsewhere.

“As a resident assistant, we make sure nobody has any prohibited items that would cause a fire,” said Jared Spencer, a senior communication major from Derby, Texas. “It is pretty simple.”

Spencer said prohibited items that could potentially pose a fire hazard in apartments include candles and coffee makers. 

“There’s trainings that you can ask for and we can help provide,” Thayn said. “We just want to make sure your experience here is one of safety and enjoyment.”