News Online: Heater used to exterminate bed bugs ruled as cause for Royal Scot apartment fire

Published online at on July 18, 2011.

Linda Hoang, Global News: Monday, July 18, 2011

Heater used to exterminate bed bugs ruled as cause for Royal Scot apartment fire

Investigators have determined the cause of the fire at a downtown apartment building last Tuesday was a result of a propane-fuelled heater, being used to exterminate bed bugs in the building.

The heater was being used to exterminate an infestation of bed bugs in a fourth-floor suite at Royal Scot Apartments at 105th Avenue and 92nd Street on July 18.

Investigators say the heater ignited combustible material resulting in the fire.

“Was there a failure with a piece of equipment? Was there an issue with the procedures? We’re also looking at operator use, was there deviation of process, that type of thing,” said Wayne Pawlowski, chief investigator.

“If we can identify what exactly happened here, we can try to prevent it from occurring again.”

Pawlowski said this process used to tackle bed bug infestations, essentially turning someone’s home into a convection ove at a temperature of 60 C to kill the bugs, is a common practice, and perfectly safe.

“The process is used all across North America, same type of equipment, same procedures, everything. It’s probably being used 100 times right now across North America. Why did it fail this time? We don’t know, we’re looking at any number of things,” he said.

Pawlowski insists, however, that the propane itself, is not involved in the incident, other than the fact that it provided fuel for the heater.

“It could have been a gasoline heater, an electric heater, it’s the heater that we’re looking at and how it was used,” he said.

He adds that propane-related fires has not risen this year when compared to last.

James Baxter, a local bug exterminator, uses an electric heater when he works because he considers it safer than propane.

“There’s no carbon monoxide being generated and there’s no ignition source so it’s a much safer system,” he said.

But Baxter adds that propane-fuelled heaters are safe when used properly.

“Propane can be used safely but you must keep all the ignition sources on the outside of the unit. The moment you bring the heating unit inside the unit, you’re creating an ignition source and that can cause a fire,” he said.

“It has to be done in a methodical, step-by-step process. Propane is a very burnable source so it has to be treated with a lot of respect.”

In May there was a similiar incident like that at Royal Scot Apartments but in Cincinnati, Ohio. A family lost everything after a fire broke out inside their home.

During a heating treatment, six propane-powered blowers were being used.

Edmonton Fire Rescue continues to review the circumstances of the fire.

The revised damage estimate is $4.5 million, which includes $50,000 each in exposure damage to a neighbouring mosque and an apartment building.

In total, six people were injured as a result of the fire including two children, two adults and two firefighters.

The investigation is ongoing.

With files from Carole Anne Guay

Click here to read the article on the Global Edmonton website.

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