Fire services have urged the community to ensure smoke alarms are installed, as a new report reveals there was an increase in the number of people who died in house fires last year.
Data from the Country Fire Authority and Fire Rescue Victoria reveals 22 people died in preventable house fires in 2020 .
The fires occurred at 18 different properties, with 15 single fatality incidents, two double fatality incidents and one triple fatality.
It was an increase from 16 fatalities the year before, and above the long-term annual average of 18.
Most of the fires started at night, between 9pm and 6am, with 72 per cent starting in living areas and bedrooms.
However, nine of the 18 properties did not have working smoke alarms.
While no fatalities or serious injuries from a fire occurred in the Ballarat region last year, Acting Assistant Chief Fire Officer for district 15, Gavin Hope, said there had been plenty of destructive house fires.
He said Victoria was unfortunately well aware of the destruction of property and lives that can be lost during bushfires and how to reduce the risk, but the risks of house fires were less known.
He said the data reinforced fire services' recommendation to install interconnected smoke alarms in all bedrooms, living areas and hallways.
The data also reveals that only one in five households have smoke alarms in bedrooms, while around 60 per cent have one installed in a living area.
This is despite data from the last decade showing that fatal fires most commonly start in areas people sleep and rest, frequently linked to home heating.
Without a working smoke alarm in these areas, it can take longer for other smoke alarms in the house to sound and means there is less time to escape.
Acting Fire Rescue Victoria Commissioner, Ken Brown, said these heartbreaking deaths were preventable and demonstrated why have working smoke alarms was important.
"Working smoke alarms offer you the best chance of surviving a fire, and without one your risk of dying in a house fire dramatically increases," Acting Commissioner Brown said.
While it has been law for smoke alarms to be installed outside every sleeping area and on every level of a house since 1997, firefighters want people to take further steps to be alerted to fires sooner.
It comes as the latest research from Fire and Rescue NSW revealed that in incidents where the fire started in the bedroom with the door closed, the smoke alarms in the hallway did not activate.
We know most fatal fires start at night, and the smell of smoke will not wake you up, so it is crucial you have smoke alarms in all bedrooms, living areas and hallways,Acting Commissioner Ken Brown
"We know most fatal fires start at night, and the smell of smoke will not wake you up, so it is crucial you have smoke alarms in all bedrooms, living areas and hallways," he continued.
"For the best protection, smoke alarms should be interconnected so that all alarms sound in the event of a fire."
Installing interconnected smoke alarms in a home ensures that if one alarm activates, all of the smoke alarms in the home will sound.
Since the Silence is Deadly campaign was launched in 2019 to encourage the use of interconnected smoke alarms, 15 per cent of households have had them installed.
In the past ten years, Victorian firefighters have responded to more than 32,000 residential fires.
During this time, fires causing serious injury and death most commonly started in lounge and bedroom areas, while the kitchen was the most common area of fire ignition for non-fatal fires.
Interconnected smoke alarms can be purchased at most hardware stores. Some are connected wirelessly, meaning they do not require hardwiring by an electrician.
It is recommended that smoke alarms be cleaned regularly to remove particles which could affect their efficiency. They should be tested monthly and be powered by a 10-year lithium battery. Replaceable batteries, meanwhile, must be changed annually.
Aside from having working smoke alarms, a practised fire escape plan can also be life saving in the event of a fire.
A comprehensive study of Australian fatalities between 2003 and 2017 revealed that young children, along with older people, people with a disability, and smokers were at a higher risk of not surviving a fire in their home.
With every second counting in the event of a fire, a practised escape plan is crucial.
A plan should detail two ways to get out of every room in the home and identify a common place to meet, such as the letterbox.
All members of the family should be aware of some vital points: to close the door to the room of the fire if safe to do so and to alert others and then get out by crawling low if there is heavy smoke.
Once outside, you should stay outside and call for help by ringing Triple Zero (000).
For more information, visit www.cfa.vic.gov.au