TV-6 Investigates: Quad City Fire Hot Spots - News and Weather For The Quad Cities -

TV-6 Investigates: Quad City Fire Hot Spots

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Half of all home heating fires occur during the winter.

As furnaces and space heaters work overtime to help people stay warm.

It's the subject of our newest TV-6 Investigates: structure fires.

We've examined five years of fire data for each of the Quad Cities.

Scott County, Western Illinois University, Moline, and East Moline helped us map and analyze the fire data the cities reported to the state fire marshals.

It allowed us to see if there were any patterns.

There are clusters of fires in almost all of the cities.

They're almost always in the central cores.

The fire data lines up with a population density map created by the Bi-State Regional Commission.

The darker areas show the parts of the cities with the most people per square mile.

The fire maps also follow a map of the poverty index in these neighborhoods.

The Federal Housing and Urban Development Agency created this index to measure the depth of poverty in city neighborhoods.

Darker shades of red indicate areas with a higher instance of poverty.

When we bring the fire data back up, we can see it follows the neighborhoods with the most instances of poverty.

Quad City structure fires tend to concentrate in areas with more people, who are less well off, in the oldest parts of our cities.

"It's some of the oldest housing in the city and actually Iowa, it's known to have some of the oldest housing in the country," says Scott County Housing Council Director Rick Schloemer.

He says the distribution of fires in the Quad Cities makes sense. He says homes in older parts of the cities were built to standards long out of date now. Potentially leaving them vulnerable to fire if upgrades are never made.

"With these being the oldest homes in the city and built before there were construction codes, yes there are greater chances to have problems," says Schloemer.

These neighborhoods are also some of the densest in the Quad Cities. With small lots and more people, the fire departments say it's natural to get more fires.

"You get more people, you get more homes, not just fires, it could be anything," says Davenport Fire Marshal Mike Hayman.

Davenport has studied where its fires occur for over 20 years. It measures how rich or poor an area is, whether the population is made up of racial minorities, and what kind of construction is common. Assistant Chief Bart Howard says density is the single biggest factor.

"The more human activity you have, we know statistically going back to the 70's, more people you put into a given space, the more homes actually there is, the more structure fires we're going to have," says Howard.

Schloemer says on top of being dense, these neighborhoods tend to have more lower income people because of the house prices. As people moved out of the central cores, more of these homes came onto the market, pushing prices down.

"It's not uncommon that you would have low income individuals in these homes, and individuals who don't necessarily have the income to go and do the maintenance and repairs," says Schloemer.

As homes decay and people have to choose between home repairs or food, some maintenance may not get done. The homes aren't dangerous, but the U.S. Fire Administration says half of all house fires are caused by cooking and heating. Some fires can be caused by human error like leaving a burner going on the stove. Old wiring and furnaces can also cause fires.

"You're going to have house fires, so the more homes you have in an area, the odds are one of those homes will eventually experience a fire," says East Moline Fire Chief Robert DeFrance.

He says that's why the fire departments track fires. They want to know the patterns too. If a neighborhood is more vulnerable for some reason, they want to know what's causing it.

"We may have a piece of equipment involved in a fire and for us, it's insignificant, but if every fire department reports the data into a national fire database, and we see a bunch of fires, that's generally how recalls are investigated," says DeFrance.

The fire departments teach fire prevention in schools, they do business inspections, and they can also do home safety inspections if a homeowner would like one. They can't solve the problem of limited finances. Schloemer wants to see banks give out small loans, perhaps up to $10,000, for people to make home repairs. Perhaps paying for a new roof, or a new heating system. Often, these homeowners don't have the cash up front to pay for these repairs.

"Who has maybe the $5,000 or $6,000 they need to put at the very beginning to purchase that new furnace?" says Schloemer.

He says these would be riskier loans for banks. A small loan on top of a mortgage payment and monthly bills might be too much for these homeowners. He says it may be worth it though, to try to prevent these homes from catching fire in the first place.

The fire departments say all homeowners should have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

They don't prevent fire, but they help get people out safely if one should start.

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