Cigarettes now second leading cause of fires in Lincoln

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LINCOLN, Neb. -- Throwing cigarettes away carelessly is not a new problem, but one that's on the rise and causing thousands of dollars in damages. Cigarettes are now the second leading cause of fires in Lincoln. It's a trend City Fire Inspector Chuck Schweitzer wants to see stop.

In 2015, 54 fires were caused by some sort of smoking matter, or poorly discarded cigarettes. That makes up 10.6 percent of all fires in Lincoln last year. Cooking was the number one cause at about 11 percent. A least four other causes make up the other 69.4 percent.

"With people carelessly disposing of cigarettes and these high winds, it's just added to the amount of fires that we've had with cigarettes.," Schweitzer said.

Investigators recently ruled cigarettes as the cause of two fires in Lincoln on April 16. One was on Thunderbird Boulevard, causing $105,000 in damage to a home. The other fire was at an apartment in Havelock, racking up $20,000 in damage.

"last year we had over 50 fires in the city because of careless smoking," Schweitzer said. "This year I think we're going to go a little bit above that just because of the track that we're on right now."

Schweitzer can't pin point exactly why these types of fires are happening more often, but said it starts with education on proper disposal in non-combustible containers.

"We see a lot of milk jugs, we see a lot of flower pots, or simply we just see people putting the cigarette buts on the ground and walking away from them." Schweitzer said.

Schweitzer said it's a common misconception that cigarette fires start quickly. For example, if a person throws a cigarette butt in a plastic bucket, it could take from 6 to 8 hours for flames to develop. That's why he said it's so important to dispose of cigarettes the right way.

The lazy way may be easy, but dealing with a fire is not.

"Just taking a split second to think about how to dispose of that cigarette can really save yourself and your family a lot of grief," Schweitzer said.

An example of proper disposal at home would be a metal trash can with a lid on top, filled with sand and water.

Another thing Schweitzer said is important is making sure smoke detectors are working.