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Ontario’s fire marshal says there’s been an increase in fire deaths this year as COVID-19 measures force many people to stay home and do more home cooking.

Jon Pegg says there have been 51 fire fatalities between Jan. 1 and May 4, a 65-per-cent increase over the same time period last year. He says 17 Ontarians have died in fires this past March alone.

Fire marshal office spokesman Ryan Betts says it wasn’t clear how many deaths occurred in homes and how many were linked to cooking, but says unattended cooking is the leading cause of home fires.

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He adds that “we do know more people are staying at home these days and therefore the potential is greater for things like cooking fires and smoking.”

The fire marshal is also warning people not to use a microwave to sterilize face masks or other personal protective equipment. Mr. Pegg says microwave ovens are not designed to heat cloth materials, so there is a risk of the mask overheating and catching fire.

Mr. Betts says he is not aware of any fires caused by microwaves and masks in Ontario, but says it has been an issue in the United States and United Kingdom.

Many disposable masks have a metal nose wire or staples holding the straps, which can cause sparks or a fire when heated.

“Heating a face mask in a microwave, in an effort to decontaminate it, is a potential fire risk and should never be done,” Mr. Pegg said Tuesday in a release.

Mr. Betts says no heat source should be used to sterilize personal protective equipment, including ovens and radiators.

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