FORT BRAGG, N.C. - In recent months, the U.S. Army Installation Management Command has reported a significant increase in property damage caused by fire. Of the 56 structural fires reported since October 2009, 33 have originated from unattended stoves and IMCOM officials want to make everyone aware of this trend.

The command is currently promoting fire safety in an effort to overcome the recent trend.
Despite the increase in IMCOM statistics, Fort Bragg officials say they have noticed a decrease in the amount of unattended cooking fires on post, but they urge residents to continue to use caution during the summer months.

"This fiscal year, Fort Bragg Fire and Emergency Services has responded to 17 Family quarters fires. Of the 17, seven were unattended cooking, equating to 41 percent compared to 58 percent noted in the recent IMCOM article," explained Fort Bragg Fire Chief Steven D. Blackburn. "The trend on Fort Bragg is slightly down from the two previous years."

Blackburn said unattended cooking is the leading cause of residential fires nationally, not just on military installations. He added that one of the 17 fires reported on Fort Bragg was due to lint build up in a dryer.

The installation management command- article also pointed out that property damage increased because residents often took too long to report the fire to authorities. According to Blackburn, it is an unusual situation.

"Sometimes on incidents that don't involve visible fire, the residents will call Picerne Family housing before dialing 9-1-1. We need to stress to residents not to hesitate in calling 9-1-1, if they have any kind of emergency or what may escalate into an emergency. First Responders are here to protect and serve 24/7."

Richard Eppler, Fort Bragg's Garrison safety manager, said there are steps Families can take to minimize the threat of fire and the ensuing property damage.

"Residents should test their smoke detectors monthly. If battery operated, the battery should be replaced every six months even if the detector tests 'okay,'" he explained. "If the detector is non-functional it should be replaced with a comparable device as soon as possible. Do not discard defective smoke detectors into normal household refuse. Most home improvement stores will take defective smoke detectors for proper disposal."

Eppler said residents should also be careful not to overload outlets as this could cause electrical fires and they should keep all exit routes free of obstructions, in case there is a fire and evacuation is necessary.
"If the outlet or switch feels warm to the touch, there is a potential problem and it should be addressed by a licensed electrician," he said. "Also, keep exit routes from the house clear of clutter and obstacles and never leave stoves unattended while cooking."

With any fire or heat sources, there's always a possibility for injuries.

Eppler said resident should also take steps to minimize potential injuries, while cooking.
"Keep all pot and pan handles turned away from the front of the cooking surface," Eppler explained. "Have a lid that will cover all cooking pots and pans nearby in the event of a fire to cover and smother the flame. Never throw water onto a cooking fire."

Blackburn also added that as a safety measure, all on-post housing units are equipped with fire extinguishers, but residents should ensure that they have a current inspection.

"The inspection to determine if the extinguisher is serviceable is simple, just make sure the arrow is in the green," he said. "If not notify Picerne Family housing and they will replace it immediately."
Eppler said Family members should also clean filters in heating and air conditioning units, know where their main gas supply shutoff valve is in homes equipped with gas units. Also, when necessary, they should have gas logs in fireplaces inspected as well as inspecting chimneys in wood burning fireplaces.
He added that one of the most important steps Families can take to reach safety in case of a fire is to have an evacuation plan.

"An evacuation plan is extremely important in the home," Eppler said. "It must also be exercised by all members of the Family so they are familiar with how to safely exit the dwelling. Designate a safe meeting place away from the structure to account for all Family members in the home. Do not try to re-enter a burning dwelling to save others or pets. Leave that to the fire professionals."