10/14/2014 01:51 EDT | Updated 12/14/2014 05:59 EST

Alberta Judge Wants Ban On Space Heaters In Hotels

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BONNYVILLE, Alta. - An Alberta judge wants portable space heaters banned in hotels and motels across the province.

Judge Kathleen Williams makes the recommendation in a fatality inquiry report examining the 2010 death of a man in the Bonnyville Hotel.

Raymond Joseph Belanger, who is 67, had mobility issues and was unable to get out of the three-storey building.

He died of smoke inhalation.

Fire officials determined the blaze was sparked by a space heater in a room next to Belanger's.

Williams wrote that a space heater also started a fire that killed two people at the Oyen Hotel in 2005, and it's time to change regulations.

Another judge in 2007 examined the Oyen fire and declined to recommend a restriction on the use of space heaters, calling their use a matter of choice.

"I disagree," said Williams. "With a second fire and a further loss of life, I am of the view this is not simply a matter of personal choice or comfort. It is a matter of public safety and that safety must take precedence when lives are being lost."

She said it's clear that space heaters were being used in many rooms in the Bonnyville Hotel as supplemental heating. The owner provided tenants with some heaters and other people purchased their own, she said.

Fire officials found no evidence that heater malfunctioned and determined the fire was likely caused by combustibles, such as clothing and bedding, placed too close to it.

Williams further recommended annual fire inspections of hotels and motels in Alberta. She said the inquiry into the Oyen fire also called for the change but it appears it was never implemented.

"I have been provided with no clear explanation as to why those recommendations have not been adopted, although it was speculated to be as a result of a lack of resources and personnel."

She said there's no evidence that an inspection would have identified a safety concern in the Bonnyville Hotel before the fatal fire but "it may have."

At the very least, said Williams, the use of space heaters would have been considered in the context of fire safety.

— By Chris Purdy in Edmonton


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