Fireplace embers were the source of a fatal fire that killed a family of six in Nehawka, NE, according to a report by that state’s fire marshal. The fire, which broke out just after midnight on the morning of October 20, 2016, completely destroyed the two-story home at 10014 McKelvie Rd.
The owners of the home, John & Michelle Speer, and their four girls who ranged in age from 2 to 11 all perished in the fire. The preliminary autopsy report indicated that the cause of death for all six of them was smoke inhalation.
Investigators, who examined fire damage patterns and interviewed witnesses, determined that the fire originated in the living room after embers from the fireplace ignited nearby combustible materials including carpet and room furnishings.
A neighbor who saw the fire called 911. Exterior walls and portions of the roof collapsed before firefighters arrived on the scene.
About 16 percent of house fires originate from heating sources such as fireplaces, furnaces and space heaters. Between 2009-2013, heating equipment was involved in about 56,000 house fires resulting in 1,490 injuries and 470 deaths, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Most of the fires occur between December and February. The agency offers the following tips on how to stay warm safely during the winter months:
- Keep anything that can burn at least three-feet away from heating equipment, such as the furnace, fireplace, wood stove, or portable space heater
- Maintain a three-foot “kid-free zone” around open fires and space heaters
- Never use your oven to heat your home
- Have a qualified professional install stationary space heating equipment, water heaters or central heating equipment according to the local codes and manufacturer’s instructions.
- Have heating equipment and chimneys cleaned and inspected every year by a qualified professional
- Remember to turn portable heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed
- Always use the right kind of fuel, specified by the manufacturer, for fuel-burning space heaters.
- Make sure the fireplace has a sturdy screen to stop sparks from flying into the room.
- Ashes should be cool before putting them in a metal container. Keep the container a safe distance away from your home.
- Test smoke alarms at least once a month