Deputy chief blames illegal cigarettes for London blazes

Deputy chief blames illegal cigarettes for London blazes
The London Free Press

London’s deputy fire chief is sounding the alarm on careless smoking and contraband tobacco after both were blamed for two blazes this week that injured two people, one of them critically.

In the latest blaze, one person was sent to hospital Thursday with non-life-threatening injures following a fire at 95 St. Julien St. that caused $100,000 damage.

Three days earlier, a man escaped his upper-floor unit at 360 Princess Ave. with third-degree burns and remains in hospital in critical condition after his chair was engulfed in flames, firefighters said.

Investigators determined careless smoking — the leading cause of fire deaths in the city and across the province — was to blame for both blazes, specifically singling out illegal cigarettes.

“People need to know that if they are smoking contraband cigarettes, they have a higher probability of starting a fire,” deputy fire chief Jack Burt said, explaining that the illegal smokes don’t have the same safety features as store-bought ones.

“Basically, a store-bought cigarette has three bands of paper and it’s less porous, so it doesn’t allow the air . . . into the burning materials, which causes the cigarette to self-extinguish. We don’t have that in contraband cigarettes, so the cigarettes literally free burn right down to the filter.”

Careless smoking of contraband cigarettes has been blamed for four of London’s last five fire deaths since 2015. The other fatality was blamed on candles, the second leading cause of deadly blazes, Burt said.

Low-priced contraband smokes are made illegally in Canada or smuggled into the country, where they’re often sold in Indigenous communities or on the street.

A carton of illegal smokes sells for $20, compared to a store-bought carton that retails for around $100.

“That’s a considerable price difference,” Burt said. “People are trying to save a buck.”

The London fire department has ramped up its efforts to educate smokers about how to stay safe when they light up. A billboard campaign warning of the dangers of smoking-related fires was launched last year.

Four blazes have been blamed on careless smoking of contraband cigarettes this year, including a fire last week at 595 Proudfoot Lane that started on a balcony. An illegal butt was carelessly discarded, igniting a fire that spread inside the unit and caused $20,000 damage, firefighters said, adding nobody was injured.

The unit in Monday’s blaze didn’t have working smoke alarms, as required by law, firefighters said.

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