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Smoking ordinance talk begins after Park West fire

Posted: 11:13 PM, Nov 01, 2018
Updated: 2018-11-02 17:41:27Z

After an apartment fire in 2016 caused by careless smoking in Bellevue, the city considered banning smoking at apartment complexes, which failed.

Some say Omaha should consider those rules after Wednesday night's fire at Park West.

Families assessed what was left of their homes at the complex after firefighters put out the blaze caused by careless smoking.
"Insurance pays," one woman said. "It pays to have insurance. It's sad though, this is thanksgiving money and Christmas next month."

Omaha doesn't have an ordinance on smoking at private properties like Park West, which is not a smoke-free property. After a string of smoking-related fires in 2016 at Gateway Park apartments in Bellevue, that city considered smoking restrictions, but failed.

"When you have somebody that has multiple fires and they refuse to write policy you have to think about the people that live there that can't afford to move," Autumn Sky Burns of the Tobacco Education & Advocacy of the Midwest said.

The Burns was involved in the 2016 conversations. She says it's time Omaha does something to prevent other fires.

"When I started thinking about the way fires affect community you have first responders running into those fires," Burns said. "We have to think about their safety and think about how can we reduce number of fires because cigarette or smoking related fires actually happen a lot more than people realize."

The Metro Omaha Tobacco Action Coalition says smoke-free policies reduce the risk of accidental fires, like Park West. More complexes are putting those rules in place.

As Park West tenants learn what caused the fire--which firefighters say was improperly disposed smoking material--some aren't sure banning smoking is the answer.

"It's their right to do that," one man said. "It's not illegal by any stretch. As a former smoker, you can't really take that away from people because it's their right to do that."

Omaha does not allow gas or charcoal grills on apartment decks or patios either, which are potentially more dangerous than smoking materials.