Building Fires in North Shore On Track to Set New Record

Fire Chief Robert Whitaker was unable to pinpoint a particular reason, but 2012 should have more building fires than any year in recent history.

Building fires in the North Shore Fire Department region are up dramatically from last year and are on pace to be the highest total in years.

Fire officials haven't been able to pinpoint a common cause. They also say the building fires are not clustered in any one geographic area among their seven communities.

"Nationally, some communities are seeing a rise in people starting houses on fire intentionally because they can't afford to keep them anymore and are trying to get rid of the property, but we haven't seen that," Fire Chief Robert Whitaker said.  

The causes of the building fires are "all mixed up," Whitaker said. "Lightning strikes, and so on." Meanwhile, medical calls are down, and the department is still on pace to handle roughly the same number of overall calls it sees each year: in the 6,000 range.

Whitaker added that 75 percent of the fire and rescue service's calls are for medical issues. However, the portion of the job that goes to traditional firefighting is on the rise. The region has also seen two fire deaths, which is unusual.

If you only look at last year compared to now, it's a huge increase, approaching double. That's in part, though, because 2011 was an aberrantly low year. The biggest incident this year occurred in May when an 88-year-old man was killed when his Glendale home exploded. The cause was unclear.

Whitaker provided these recent totals for building fires:

Building Fires (YTD)

  • 2009: 33
  • 2010: 41
  • 2011: 24
  • 2012: 41

"As far as the low 2011, I really don’t have a good idea as to the reason. At times, these things are simply odd changes," Whitaker told Patch. "We did not change any prevention programs, procedures, etc. I don’t see anything that changed significantly."

North Shore Fire/Rescue serves the City of Glendale and the Villages of Bayside, Brown Deer, Fox Point, River Hills, Shorewood and Whitefish Bay.

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In 2012, 38 percent of all fires handled by NSFD were unintentional. Only 8 percent were arson. About 10 percent of the overall fire tallies (buildings are just a portion of that) are set in dumpsters.

The other causes broke down this way:

  • 10% failure of equipment or heat source.
  • 2% act of nature.
  • 3% cause under investigation
  • 22% cause undetermined after investigation.
  • 15% "other." "This is how causes of fires are reported that are a result of an adjacent structure or item burning," Whitaker said. "So, in the case of a home explosion in Glendale over the summer, there were several structures and cars that burned as a result of that explosion, so they are all reported as 'Other' in the national reporting system."

As far as total estimated losses, Whitaker said that, in 2011, the total loss was also low. "Our 2012 loss is similar to 2009. Much of the loss this year is related to the home explosion which damaged several homes and autos."


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