Dillingham sees rash of steam bath fires

Mar 16, 2018

Four steams have burned in the last two months. The Dillingham Volunteer Fire Department recommends checking the shielding of chimneys and walls behind stoves.

Wright cautions that, after many uses, the wooden walls near the stove in a steam will burn at a lower temperature than when the steam was first built.
Credit KDLG

Early this week, the Dillingham Volunteer Fire Department responded to the fourth steam bath fire in two months. Monday’s fire occurred at a home on Aleknagik Lake Road within city limits.

“It was a steam bath behind a house,” said Malcolm Wright, acting as fire department’s public information officer. “No exposures, nothing else damaged. Other than probably some tree branches, I don’t think anything has been damaged on those four [fires] beyond the steam bath itself. In [Monday’s] case, it was heavily damaged on the interior, but it wasn’t a complete loss the way they usually are.”

The recent fires have not caused any injuries. Wright said that, in these cases, it was not obvious while people were using the steam that a fire was smoldering. The blazes began while the steams were unattended, either while the steams were heating up or after people were finished using them.

Wright recommended ensuring that chimneys and the walls behind the stove are adequately shielded, especially in older steam baths.

“Generally with steam bath fires, what happens is the radiant heat from the stove bakes any wood that’s exposed to it. That, over time, lowers the temperature at which the wood will start to burn. After being repeatedly baked over the years, it’ll get to the point where relatively low temperatures, well under 200 [degrees Farenheit], can be enough to actually start it smoldering,” said Wright.

While four steam bath fires is a high concentration for two months, overall, the fire department has seen fewer fires than average this winter.

Contact the author at avery@kdlg.org or 907-842-5281.