Fire for Christmas? Polk County sees sudden spike in fires over holiday season

Polk County

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Fire crews are hoping to get a break after Polk County saw a sudden spike in structure and outdoor fires over the holiday season.

“We’ve had a 14% increase in structure fires and a 17% increase in outside fires,” said Chris Jonckheer, public information officer for Polk County Fire Rescue.

Since the week before Thanksgiving, there were 17 more structure fires compared to the 2018 holiday season, Jonckheer said.

That averages out to more than one structure fire call per day.

Courtesy Polk County Fire Rescue

There was a fire in Mulberry days before Christmas. Firefighters retrieved all the family’s Christmas gifts.

Earlier in the month in Mulberry, an elderly couple died in their Willis Road home.

This weekend, there were two simultaneous fires less than a mile apart.

Courtesy Polk County Fire Rescue

“Both of those fires obviously raised some suspicion with our battalion chiefs on incident command at that point so they contacted the fire marshal’s office to investigate,” said Jonckheer.

Because many of the fires are under investigation, it is difficult to know what caused the uptick in fires.

Many were caused by malfunctioning electrical wiring, Jonckheer said.

“People are using indoor space heaters, electric space heaters and fireplaces. Sometimes, if those are unattended, they become a hazard,” he said.

Heating is the second leading cause of U.S. home fires, deaths and injuries and December, January and February are the peak months for heating fires, according to a press release released Monday by Florida’s state fire marshal.

Some 8 On Your Side tips:

  • Keep an eye on space heaters and your fireplace.
  • Keep items away from heaters and fireplace.
  • Keep heaters and fireplace clean.
  • Don’t use your oven to heat your home.
  • Install a carbon monoxide detector.
  • Read the instructions. Know how to use your fire extinguisher.
  • Make sure your smoke detectors are working by pressing and holding the test button.
  • Make a clear path to your door for fire crews to easily come in and rescue you and your loved ones.

There were also 26 more outdoor fires this holiday season compared to last year.

“This time of year, the weather changes. It gets a lot colder. Sometimes we have frosts that dry out vegetation, make things a lot more flammable out there,” said Jonckheer.

Florida’s brush fire season is upon us.

Polk County Fire Rescue advises you to make sure you have the proper permitting for any controlled burns.

Be careful where you flick cigarettes.

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