Alcohol is a factor in more than half of all fatal fires in Irish homes, according to a new study by the Health Research Board (HRB). The study examined 101 domestic fires between 2014 and 2016 that resulted in 106 fatalities. Of these fatalities, 51% had alcohol in their blood.

Data from coroner reports found that almost two-thirds of victims had a blood–alcohol concentration over three times the legal drink-driving limit. The HRB said such a level of alcohol consumption would reduce a person’s ability to respond to a fire. This is because alcohol affects balance and coordination and could result in a possible loss of consciousness. Most fires started in the living room followed by the bedroom. The most common time of fatal fires to start was between midnight and 2am.

The HRB research also found older people, single people, men and those living in rural areas were at a higher risk of dying in a house fire. In particular, more than half of all victims of domestic fires were aged over 65, reports The Irish Times. Almost 80% of fatalities were single people, while 69% of victims were alone at the time of the fire.

The research also showed that farmers and agricultural workers accounted for 1 in 5 of all deaths, despite representing only 3% of the population. Coroners’ data also recorded that 1 in 3 people who died in domestic fires were smokers and it was highly probable that they were smoking around the time of the fire.

HRB Chief Executive, Darrin Morrisey, said there had been a significant and steady decline in the number of fire fatalities over the last 15 years since the introduction of community fire safety programmes. The increased use of domestic smoke alarms had also helped reduce fire fatalities, he said.

“This new HRB research is designed to support the development of evidence-based policies to reduce the number of fire-related deaths in Ireland”, said Mr Morrisey.

One of the study’s main authors, Anne Doyle, said campaigns on fire safety needed to be specifically targeted at those most at risk, especially the elderly and those living alone particularly in rural locations.

“Those who prescribe and/or dispense medications should be educated on advising patients on dangers of mixing alcohol with prescription medications”, she said.

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