Fire caused by child displaces three families

A steady breeze and intense heat helped to spread a fire that began in the carport of a single-family home to the duplex, at left, next door. Investigators believe the fire was started by a child, 7, playing with a lighter. (By Superstition Fire and Medical District/Independent Newsmedia Inc. USA)

A steady breeze and intense heat helped to spread a fire that began in the carport of a single-family home to the duplex, at left, next door. Investigators believe the fire was started by a child, 7, playing with a lighter. (By Superstition Fire and Medical District/Independent Newsmedia Inc. USA)

A child, 7, playing with a lighter is responsible for a first-alarm fire Feb. 27 in the 1700 block of West Ninth Avenue in Apache Junction that displaced three families, according to Dave Montgomery, the assistant fire chief and public information officer for the Superstition Fire and Medical District.

The fire began in the carport of a single-family home and was spread by a steady breeze and intense heat to a neighboring duplex in the 300 block of South Mara Drive, where two families resided, causing an estimated $130,000-$150,000 damage total to the structures, Mr. Montgomery said in an e-mailed response to questions. Crews from the Superstition fire district and Mesa Fire and Medical Department were dispatched around 4 p.m. Firefighters worked for most of the afternoon to extinguish hot spots, Mr. Montgomery said.

All eight occupants of the homes escaped unharmed from the buildings before fire crews arrived, Mr. Montgomery said.

They received temporary housing and some personal items from the American Red Cross, Mr. Montgomery said.

Trudy Thompson, spokeswoman for the Phoenix office of the Red Cross, could not confirm the types of services and items the families required, she said during a phone interview March 3. She said, in general, case workers assess the victims’ needs, such as putting them up in a motel and providing them with clothing and food. The Red Cross also replaces medications and medical equipment lost in a fire, she said.

“We have nurses on call who will work with pharmacies. The Red Cross will pick up the cost,” Ms. Thompson said.

She encouraged families to have a working smoke detector and an evacuation plan in place in which family members meet at a predetermined location in case of a fire so they know everyone is safe.
Ms. Thompson said the Red Cross assisted victims of 17 home fires between Feb. 27 and March 3 in the metropolitan Phoenix area.

“SFMD reminds everyone to keep matches and lighters away from children. Fortunately, no one was injured in today’s fire, but the danger was real,” Mr. Montgomery said.

That same week, SFMD firefighters responded to two arson fires, according to Mr. Montgomery:

•On Thursday, Feb. 26, firefighters responded to a fire in the 300 block of North Meridian Drive. The travel trailer is in the city of Apache Junction but outside the fire district. Because Rural/Metro Fire Department does not have fire investigators, the Apache Junction Police Department asked SFMD crews to help, Mr. Montgomery said.

The suspect allegedly started his girlfriend’s clothing on fire because he was mad at her, according to Mr. Montgomery. The suspect admitted to police detectives that he had started the fire, Mr. Montgomery said.

•SFMD firefighters responded to another arson fire shortly before midnight Saturday, Feb. 28, at a two-story home in the 2100 block of East 38th Avenue. Firefighters were able to quickly control several small fires in the residence; the damage was limited to about $25,000, Mr. Montgomery said.

Fire investigators identified the origins of several of the fires and detected possible accelerants, he said.
The home’s occupant — a female whose age was unknown — admitted to starting her house on fire, according to Mr. Montgomery. He did not release her motivation for starting the fire.

The woman was treated at the fire scene for smoke inhalation, transported to a local medical center and then transported by medical helicopter to Maricopa Burn Center for treatment.

Her condition is unknown, Mr. Montgomery said. Apache Junction police detectives and SFMD fire investigators worked the scene through the night with an arson detection dog from Gilbert Fire Department, Mr. Montgomery said.

The police department is investigating the incident, Mr. Montgomery said.

The Apache Junction Independent is mailed each month to 35,000 homes.

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