Storm Lake saw its third consecutive year of increased numbers of structural fires in 2008, a new public safety report finds.
The department responded to 244 calls during the past year, up about 4 percent from 2007.
There were 23 structural fires in 2008, the highest total since 2001 and up 65 percent from 2007.
There was a modern low of just six fires in 2005, 10 in 2006, and 13 in 2007.
"It's curious. There is really no trend that we can put our finger on to explain it, but the structure fires seem to have gone up pretty much every year that I've been here - not at an alarming rate, but up nonetheless and with no particular real reason," Fire Chief Mike Jones says.
Jones hesitates to mention it for fear of jinxing the good fortune, but does note that the department has been fortunate to have faced very few large fires and potential loss-of-life situations.
"We're also used to shooting out to the country for quite a few rural fires, and we are not seeing many of those now," Jones says.
In the structural fires the department saw in 2008, most tended to be electrical in nature.
"This time of year we especially worry about portable heating appliances. You want to be careful not to overload circuits with heaters, and don't use fuel-fired heaters indoors - this is a major cause of fires being seen statewide right now," Jones says.
"Careless smoking is not the number one cause of the fires we see locally any more, but it certainly does still occur."
In other cases, food forgotten cooking on stoves has caused some close calls.
There was one arson fire in Storm Lake in 2008, and one in 2007.
When there are few fire tragedies, people may relax their readiness.
"One issue that concerns us very much is that as we do our rental unit inspections, we find that people never put batteries in smoke detectors," Jones says. "It might seem like a small thing, but it's one of the best things we can do as a community to prevent a tragedy from happening. We ask people to please check those batteries and change them regularly."
While structure fires were increasing in 2008, vehicle fires took a sharp downturn, from 10 in 2007 to five last year. There were also 33 "smoke scare" calls for the fire department that were determined not to be actual structural fires.
The department conducted 513 residential, school and business safety inspections and educational programs in 2008, a large increase from 327 the previous year.
There are 31 volunteer firefighters on the Storm Lake roster as well as two full time leaders, following action by the city council to increase the strength of the department by two positions.
Currently, three positions are vacant, Jones said. Applicants are being sought and testing is planned for the spring in hopes of bringing the department to full strength.
Members logged some 2,500 hours of training during the past year, an average of 81 hours per volunteer. They hosted a regional training for response to railroad-related disasters, and hosted and trained on a "live burn" simulator.