Early 2009 fire fatalities concern investigators

Posted: Friday, January 09, 2009

State and local fire officials are concerned about the number of fire fatalities just one week into the new year while cautioning building and home owners to use care while heating buildings with much of the state immersed in extreme cold.

Alaska State Troopers said so far three deaths have been reported, the highest recorded for a first week in 13 years.

All three of this week's fatalities remain under investigation. Two were in separate fires in Wasilla and the other in Anchorage.

A 54-year-old Wasilla woman, Darlene Miller, was severely injured in a Monday night fire. She was transported to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle because it specializes in treating burns, but died on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Duane Triplett, a former president of Anchorage television station KIMO, died from injuries sustained in a home fire. Triplett's wife Colleen, their son, another family member were injured in the blaze.

Later Wednesday, two good Samaritans rescued a 12-year-old boy from a residential trailer fire, but they could not save another child. No names have been released.

Last year, there were 19 fire-related fatalities in the state, troopers said.

The concerns this year grow as extreme subzero temperatures force homeowners into using space heaters and fire places more often while putting additional stress on heating systems.

Temperatures reaching 60 degrees below zero have plagued the state's south-central and interior regions for nearly two weeks.

Fire officials say improper or unsafe responses to these temperatures could make things worse if people aren't careful.

Home and business owners need to be especially attentive to their heating systems, and should keep combustible materials away from space heaters.

Ron Templeton, deputy fire marshal for the Fairbanks Fire Department said paying attention to details makes a difference.

"Many don't realize it, but maintenance goes a long way whenever you're talking about a heating system," he said. "If you have a boiler, have it cleaned and serviced once a year."

Templeton said his city has been fortunate not to have any fatalities or a spike in major fires so far.

But through Wednesday, the Anchorage Fire Department reported eight major fires, some attributed to the cold weather.

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