Over the past several months - in counties all over Jersey - there has been a significant spike in home and apartment fires.

Elizabeth fire

No one is sure why this is happening, but many fire officials think the increase may be tied to the economic downturn- where people have been more willing to put off fixing or upgrading the electric wiring in their homes, because it's so expensive.

New Jersey state Fire Marshal Bill Kramer says "we don't have the data yet to make a comparison (on how many fires there have been this year compared to previous ones" but older homes or apartments can have sub-standard electrical wiring, and if you find yourself having to reset - or your breakers are tripping on a regular basis - and it's the same breaker all the time - that's a problem - that circuit is overloaded and you need to either find out where that circuit is and unload it or have an electrician come in and upgrade your service or add more outlets."

He says overloading the electric system in your house can be very dangerous, since "electric has to flow through the wire, and the more that flows through it and the more demand on it- the more friction is created, and friction causes heat…people often think - it will never happen to me- but unfortunately the people it has happened to probably said the same thing…extension cords should only be used in a temporary situation - where there's no outlets available- you don't want to run them on rugs- they can overheat if they're not in an open area."

Kramer adds "to protect yourself make sure you have working smoke alarms on every level of your home, especially outside of sleeping areas…we want to make sure people test their smoke alarms monthly and that they replace the batteries twice a year - both in the fall and in the spring…and every building has to be maintained…putting off doing electrical work could be a contributing factor…also we do know from statistics that candles are major issue- and have been a growing problem over the past number of years- I guess they're kind of in vogue at this point - people love candles, but one of the things we have to remember is we never want to leave candles unattended…we're getting into the season where thunderstorms can knock out power - people should really have flashlights with batteries, and not rely on candles."

He also says as the temperature goes up, fire danger can increase - especially in situations where there's mulch - and we have seen many, many times where mulch up against a building has actually ignited the outside of the building… just make sure that you have non-combustible material up against your house- it doesn't mean you can't use mulch- but just don't put the mulch up against your house."


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