Man dies in overnight fire in Des Moines house without working smoke detectors

Smoke detectors that weren't working played a role in the death of a man in an overnight house fire on the south side of Des Moines, according to the Des Moines Fire Department.

The man's name was not immediately released.

Fire Capt. Chris Clement said the man's mother reported the fire about 1 a.m. Thursday in the 5500 block of S.W. Third Place.

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She was in the living room and discovered the fire after smelling smoke, Clement said. She made it out of the home with her dogs uninjured.

Clement said firefighters extinguished the fire and found the son, who was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.

He said it was a relatively small fire, contained to the bedroom where the man was, but none of the smoke detectors were in working condition. He said having working detectors is especially critical because the time people have to safely escape a house fire is down sharply.

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"Yesteryear, people had around 15 minutes to get out of the house and survive," he said. "Today, the conventional wisdom says you have about three minutes."

It's not the house itself burning that is lethal, but all the flammable contents in the home, he said. Modern mattresses, couches and other furniture contain petroleum-based foam that burns readily and emits huge amounts of smoke, he said, making smoke detectors all the more important, he said.

The fire is under investigation, though it appears accidental, he said.

Noelle Alviz-Gransee is a breaking news reporter at the Des Moines Register. Follow her on Twitter @NoelleHannika or email her at

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Lack of working smoke detectors ID's as factor in fatal Des Moines fire