House fires on rise in Northern Ireland, but number of deaths down
The number of people who have lost their lives in accidental house fires has reached a record low, new statistics reveal.
The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service gave a cautious welcome to the figures - as they also showed that the number of fires had increased slightly.
In 2017/18 there were 896 accidental house fires.
There were a total of four deaths as a result.
That is a reduction of 56% from nine fatalities the previous year, when there were 826 fires.
In 2015-2016 there were 843 fires and a total of 12 deaths as a result.
So while the number of deaths is down, the number of accidental house fires increased by 8.5% from 826 in 2016/17 to 896 in 2017/18.
The NIFRS said the "steady and sustained reduction in the number of accidental fire deaths in recent years is testament to our prevention and protection work in identifying and targeting those most at risk from fire in our community".
It said that carrying out thousands of home fire safety checks and fitting smoke alarms "has helped save lives in Northern Ireland".
Further figures obtained by the Belfast Telegraph showed that over the past 10 years 923 call-outs to house fires found there was no smoke alarm fitted.
Assistant Chief Fire Officer Alan Walmsley said: "Although the reduction in accidental fire deaths is undoubtedly welcomed it's a real tragedy that four people still lost their lives.
"I firmly believe these deaths can be prevented and we continue to strive to ensure that no one in Northern Ireland loses their life as a result of an accidental house fire - that has to be our goal."
Mr Walmsley said the NIFRS targeted those who were most at risk from fire in the community.
He added: "We have signed over 70 partnerships across the voluntary and statutory sectors, helping us to reach and engage with those people who need our help the most - including those aged over 60 and people with mobility or health issues which would impact on their ability to respond to a fire.
"In the last year alone, directly targeting those most at risk of fire in their home, firefighters carried out 4,423 free home fire safety checks, provided fire safety advice and fitted 3,228 smoke alarms. I'm confident that this vital work has helped save lives in Northern Ireland.
"However, there has been a slight increase in the number of accidental house fires this year.
"During 2017/18 firefighters attended 896 accidental houses fires across Northern Ireland - many of which could be prevented," Mr Walmsley said.