Firefighters have fought three apartment fires in the past week (during Fire Prevention Week), all caused by the careless disposal of cigarettes. The Metro Omaha Tobacco Action Coalition is calling for property owners to implement smoke-free policies for their rental properties. Some managers are already doing it.
The latest blaze happened Friday morning at the LionsHead Apartments near 112th and Lafayette where 20 people were forced from 10 units due to the fire that started on a second-story balcony shortly before 2:30 a.m.
Mary Kennedy lives in a multi-family unit at North Acres Apartments at 108th and Fort streets and says she is very careful when she smokes and puts out cigarettes. “I let everything cool off before I empty it and it goes with me out to the circle, that way cigarettes don't get thrown out.”
Not everyone is that careful. Three times in a week apartment fires have been caused by careless smokers. Firefighters say all could have been prevented if people would just use common sense.
“Yes, it’s common sense, it is a hot item, it is an ember glowing inside a cigarette we need to discard,” says OFD Capt. Shane McClanahan. “It’s just like we would turn off the stove at home when we're done with it or your lighter or fireplace, a campfire you put out when you’re done. It's the same thing.”
North Acres is owned and managed by the Douglas County Housing Authority. Some smoking is allowed, but soon smoking will be banned in all units.
"Starting in January of 2012 they were all notified we'll be making it more restrictive,” said Joan Bertolini with the Douglas County Housing Authority. “No one will be allowed to smoke at all in their units and we'll have a designated smoking area outside at each of out multi-family complexes."
Kennedy doesn’t like the new restrictions. “They don't like us smoking here on the porch, which is okay, but when it’s cold and rainy it’s really hard not to smoke, but to come out and get soaked.”
She’s aware of the three smoking-related fires in apartment buildings and believes the tighter restrictions will help keep her and her family safer.
The Douglas County Housing Authority has had some kind of non-smoking policy in their units since 2007.