INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana's fire deaths have surged to 54 so far this year, giving the state more fire fatalities in just over five months than all of last year — a troubling increase the state's top fire official said Friday he's at a loss to explain.
State Fire Marshal Jim Greeson said Indiana's 54 fire deaths with more than half of the year still on the calendar compares with the 46 deaths during all of 2012. He said he's puzzled by the surge because there appears to be no common trend that could explain why so many people have died this year in home fires.
Greeson said that during his five years as state fire marshal he's never seen such a high number of fire deaths so early in a year.
"We're on a course here if this continues to have over 100 fatalities — I hope that's not the case. If it would that would be a much larger number that we usually would anticipate," he said. "This just doesn't have a specific point of reference where you can say, 'OK, we've got to focus on a certain group to correct this.' It's been across many areas."
Many of the deaths occurred during the winter, Greeson said, and some were sparked by people using alternative means to stay warm. In February, five people, including two children, died in a house fire in the southern Indiana town of Sulphur that was sparked by a wood stove serving as the home's heating source.
Other instances involved people who fell asleep while smoking or returned home hungry early in the morning, sometimes after drinking, and fell asleep after they put some food on the stove.
Although the causes of the fires were wide-ranging, Greeson said that in more than half of this year's cases the homes or apartments hit by deadly fires either did not have a smoke alarm or had one that was not functioning.