By Andrew Welsh-Huggins
COLUMBUS — The number of fire-related deaths in Ohio dropped last year to a 26-year low, with the state fire marshal attributing part of the decline to the unusually mild winter.
It was the second year running Ohio saw double digit decreases in the numbers of people killed in blazes, said Fire Marshal Larry Flowers.
The state recorded an unofficial 106 fire deaths for 2012, a 17 percent drop from the year before, which saw 128 fire deaths.
The figures for 2012 are tentative and could rise slightly as fire departments finish their mandatory reporting to the state.
The year’s deadliest fire happened in November in northwest Ohio. A fast-moving fire leveled a 130-year-old farmhouse and killed three young children and two adults. The wood-frame home, which sat outside the village of Republic, about 50 miles southeast of Toledo, was fairly isolated and surrounded by farm fields.
The nearest house was about a quarter-mile away.
Flowers said the cause of the majority of fatal fires was undetermined. Smoking and cooking led the categories when the cause was known.
In more than two-thirds of fatalities, homes either lacked a smoke detector or it couldn’t be determined whether one was present.
“One thing that will definitely save lives is everyone having working smoke detectors,” Flowers said Friday.
Flowers said the mild temperatures from January to March a year ago may have played a role in the decline. In cold weather, people use space heaters, a frequent cause of fires.
This month, Ohio is running ahead of last year’s figures, with 10 deaths recorded in January compared with four last year at this time. Temperatures have been far more seasonal this year and a cold snap next week is expected to bring some single-digit temperatures.