PORTLAND (AP) — Maine public safety officials are pushing for more home fire safety awareness and proper use of smoke detectors in the wake of the state’s worst year for fire deaths in more than two decades.

Twenty-five people died in Maine fires in 2014, the highest figure since 1993. There were 14 fatal fires in the state, and five of them killed multiple people. Faulty smoke detectors may have played a role in all but two of the deaths, State Fire Marshal Joseph Thomas said.

“Those are probably fatalities that don’t have to happen if we get people to pay attention to taking care of their smoke detectors,” he said.

The American Red Cross and state fire marshal’s office have distributed smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in Biddeford and Lewiston and reached out to residents about their proper use, Thomas said. Only about 40 percent of smoke detectors are in working order, though close to 90 percent of people believe they have working smoke detectors in their homes, he said.

The biggest problems are lack of batteries or failure to maintain the devices, Thomas said.

Maine averaged about 17 fire deaths per year from 2000 to 2013, state police spokesman Steve McCausland said. The lowest year was 2010 with nine, he said. McCausland said the state averaged 49 fire deaths per year from the 1950s to the 1970s, but use of smoke detectors, sprinkler systems and tighter builder codes lowered the number.


The year’s high total of fire deaths was due to two deadly fires in Portland and Caribou that claimed a total of 10 lives. The Nov. 1 Portland blaze was an apartment fire that killed Nicole Finlay, David Bragdon Jr., Ashley Thomas and Christopher Conlee, all of Portland; Maelisha Jackson, of Topsham; and Steven Summers, of Rockland. It is still under investigation.

The Portland apartment had a history of code violations and survivors of the fire said it lacked smoke detectors. The city established a task force to review fire and code inspection policies after the fire.

The Nov. 20 Caribou fire killed Norma Skidgel and her children Mason, Madison and Trent Delisle. Investigators said they found a smoke detector inside the mobile home, but its battery had been removed.

“In this day and age, we are long beyond explaining to the public the life-saving qualities of a smoke detector,” McCausland said. “They are simple, they’re cheap and they work.”

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