Deaths in NC mobile home fires hit historic levels, officials say

Investigators

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Mobile home fire deaths have reached historic levels in North Carolina, according to the state insurance commissioner.

 Because of the way mobile homes are constructed, they actually intensify the heat of the blaze, investigators say, and fires spread more rapidly inside of a mobile home

Monday in Wendell, 79-year-old Delorise Winston died after an explosion and fire in her mobile home. Investigators say the oxygen she’d been using fueled the rapid spread of the fire.

Her death is part of a sadly growing statistic in this state.

“We’ve seen more fires in mobile homes in 2018, and the majority were senior citizens,” says state fire marshal Brian Taylor.

Last year, the state reported 135 fire-related deaths, with many of them in mobile homes.  This year, we’ve already seen 26 deaths from fires in both mobile and regular homes.  

The state fire marshal says space heaters are the leading cause of mobile home fires with people either improperly connecting them using with extension cords or leaving something too close to the space heater which catches on fire.

National statistics indicate three times as many people die in fires in mobile homes as they do in fires that occur in single- and two-family homes. 

“It’s a tin can,” says Taylor. “Some of your older ones built in the 70s, they hold the heat so it’s like an oven inside.”

The Office of Manufactured Housing Programs oversees the construction statutes, standards, and regulations of manufactured housing and provides consumers with resources related to the purchase, set-up, and maintenance of manufactured homes.

Newer mobile homes have to adhere to HUD Regulations which put restrictions on the kinds of sheetrock used for the walls as well as requiring interior materials that make it more difficult for a fire to spread.

“Basically you’re meeting the standards of a stick-built home,” said Taylor.

The fire marshal’s office is also asking for $60,000 to help continue a program to install smoke detectors in mobile homes — a program that began last year.

“We highly recommend a 10-year lithium battery model so once you install it, it’s there and good for 10 years,’’ said Taylor. “We don’t want senior citizens climbing ladders and testing batteries.”

Meanwhile, the insurance industry wants to raise the cost of mobile home premiums between 19 and 20 percent next year. 

“Our experts and attorneys and legal staff are studying it to see what is and is not justified,” says department spokesman Barry Smith. “We’ll then work with the rate bureau to negotiate what is a fair price.”

To comment on the proposed increase, there are two ways to provide public feedback

Emailed public comments should be sent by March 20 to 2019MH@ncdoi.gov.

Written public comments should be mailed to Mary Sanders, Administrative Specialist, 1201 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, N.C. 27699-1201 by March 20, 2019.

All public comments will be shared with the North Carolina Rate Board.

If the insurance commissioner and his staff are unable to negotiate a deal, they’ll hold a public hearing on the mobile home insurance premium rates in the fall.

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