The shrill beeping of a smoke detector was a common sound around dinnertime in Evelyn Anderson's two-bedroom Arlington apartment.
She tried waving away the smoke from whatever was cooking on the stove and opening windows. Finally, she gave up cooking on high heat altogether.
It was all she could do to resist the easiest option -- also the most dangerous, fire officials say -- and rip that annoying alarm off the wall.
The issue was highlighted this month after a fire at an Arlington apartment complex July 2. The manager said residents frequently took their smoke detectors down because the units were so small that simply cooking would activate them. The fire killed an 11-year-old girl and a 29-year-old woman and injured two others.
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State law requires property owners to install working smoke detectors in apartments and rental properties, but they have little control over what happens once a lease is signed.
When answering medical or other calls, firefighters typically check a home's smoke detectors and carry extras along with batteries. Fire officials recommend smoke detectors be placed in every bedroom and in hallways.
The National Fire Safety Council estimates that 94 percent of homes have at least one smoke alarm, but that one-third to one-half of the alarms do not work because the battery is dead or missing. A national study found that roughly two-thirds of fire deaths that occurred from 2003 to 2006 happened in homes with no working smoke alarms.
As many as 20 percent of the smoke alarms installed in U.S. homes have been disabled, mostly because they go off as "nuisance alarms" if positioned too close to a kitchen, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
People in small or studio apartments, where the kitchen is near the bedroom, are particularly likely to remove smoke detectors, said Stephen Lea, Arlington's assistant fire marshal.
"I tell people all the time that smoke detectors won't do any good if you've taken them down," he said. "Unfortunately, this still happens all the time."
Beginning in 2013, Fort Worth will require property owners to install smoke detectors in every bedroom of rental properties.
Fort Worth fire Capt. Larry Bilbrey said some people remove detectors for frivolous reasons, like wanting the battery for a TV remote control or other gadget.
"It's very frustrating," he said. "Smoke detectors are your main defense if you're sleeping and a fire breaks out at your house."
Property owners have a vested interest in ensuring that apartments have working smoke detectors, said Perry Pillow, government affairs director for the Apartment Association of Tarrant County, which represents 1,400 property owners and managers. Some members even conduct routine checks of their properties to make sure detectors are up and working.
"This is a big deal for us," he said. "You're talking about saving lives, but also protecting personal property."
Fire safety officials said they encourage apartment residents to move smoke detectors as far from the kitchen as possible and regularly clean the oven, which can help lessen smoke. In addition, smoke detectors should be replaced every decade, even if they appear to work.
"You really do need that smoke detector," Lea said. "We can't stress that enough."
Sarah Bahari, 817-390-7056