Rock Island fires illustrate holiday hazards

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Shock and sadness as Geozette Garth finds her house on fire Tuesday morning. While taking her four kids to school, household items and holiday gifts go up in smoke at 1316 25th Street in Rock Island.

"She had everything purchased," said Latisha Howlett, Garth's sister. "But everybody's safe."

A faulty clothes dryer may be to blame as fire and smoke take a toll.

"The house is completely damaged all the way to the ceiling," Howlett continued. "I saw on the second floor that flames were up there in the bedroom."

According to the National Fire Prevention Association, more than 40% of home fires take place from December through February. Those numbers are already climbing around the Quad Cities.

Each year nationally, holiday fires kill some 20 people and cause more than $25 million in damage.

"The hardest part is seeing their Christmas destroyed," said Rock Island Battalion Chief Paul Hoffeditz. "Through no fault of their own, fires happen like this."

That was the case Monday night at 3500 24th Avenue in Rock Island. This fire was contained to a bedroom, but there's plenty of smoke damage. Some 16,000 holiday lights and dozens of decorations stretched across the home.

That scene illustrates the kind of damage from seasonal fires. Fires that become more frequent this time of year. Some fires that will have deadly and dangerous consequences.

Sadly, many of these fires are preventable. Families are left to pick up the pieces.

"Common sense and housekeeping is one of the biggest issues," Hoffeditz said. "Keeping everything away from space heaters. Keeping the tree safe. Keeping the packages away from space heaters."

At Garth's home, which she insured, the fire is over but work is just beginning.

"The homeowner's got things now that she's going to have to replace on top of Christmas presents," Hoffeditz said. "We'll do everything we can to help her out."

Firefighters say it's best to be cautious. They recommend using circuit breakers or power strips instead of plugging everything into an outlet. It just might save a house or a family.

"Lives you can't replace," Howlett concluded. "Things, over time, you can replace those. But people, loved ones, your children, you can't replace."

It's philosophy from a fire scene that's burning holiday cheer.