BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, along with local fire chiefs, municipal mayors, and representatives from the American Red Cross, held a news conference Thursday to discuss fire safety amidst this week's prolonged sub-freezing temperatures.
In the first four days of 2018, there have been 13 house fires in East Baton Rouge Parish, according to Baton Rouge Fire Department spokesperson, Curt Monte.
"This is alarming. We've already had six fire-related deaths in our parish so far this year," said Broome. "We want people to be safe and sound."
Fire chiefs from across the area joined Broome at the press conference, offering tips to residents, including to have a safety plan. They also urged residents to make sure they have working fire alarms and to not get comfortable in a false sense of security.
Zachary mayor, David Amrhein, addressed Wednesday night's fatal fire in which a mother and her two young daughters were killed.
The latest fatal blaze in Zachary adds to an alarming list, suggesting that the parish is on pace to far surpass previous years. In 2015, the parish saw eight fire-related deaths. Nine fiery deaths were recorded in 2016 and last year, fires claimed seven lives. So far, six people have died from fires just four days into 2018.
State Fire Marshal Butch Browning also spoke at the conference, saying they've had 150 fires statewide. "The vast majority of those were investigated as an accidental fire with folks trying to wrestle with cold weather," said Browning. "These fires have taken a toll on many families, many relatives and many friends."
South Louisiana has experienced prolonged periods below freezing temperatures every night since New Year's Eve. The capital area will experience below freezing temperatures again on Thursday and Friday night, according to the WAFB First Alert Weather Team.
While any have likely heard the usual tips like install a working smoke alarm and create a game plan, Browning says it's crucial that the message not fall on deaf ears. "If people don't act now and if they don't take the precautions or heed the warnings, we're going to see more tragedies," said Browning.
As fires rip through homes in the parish, first responders have had to battle not only the blazes, but the brutal temperatures as well.
"These firefighters have been asked to respond under the most adverse conditions," said Browning.
According to the National Weather Service (NWS), at 35º or below, just 30 minutes outside puts folks at risk for frostbite. It's something Baton Rouge Fire Chief Ed Smith says his guys have to be especially careful about. "When you're out there in 20 degrees and you get wet from the fire hose, that's going to cause issues and also inside your bunker gear, you start sweating and that causes hypothermia," said Smith.
Smith says they always take breaks to ensure safety while at a fire, but preventing the blaze in the first place is the number one goal, one they cannot reach without help from the community.
"We need everyone to listen and to heed this warning," Smith said.
Anyone in need of a smoke alarm can contact the American Red Cross. Click here or call 1-844-741-7270.
Watch the mayor's full press conference below.
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