Several large fires in the area last week were an example of the hazards the winter season can pose for homeowners, and the Sedalia Fire Department has offered some tips to hopefully prevent other large blazes.
There are many common, preventable causes of fires during the winter months, including keeping candles too close to flammable items or using space heaters improperly.
“It’s important to get yearly maintenance on chimneys — have a chimney sweep come out and professionally clean it, remove the creosote, which is what creates the fire,” said SFD Fire Inspector Jamie Volk. “With space heaters it comes down to leaving it on when you’re not home, putting it near combustible materials, chairs, etc., or using extension cords to power them instead of plugging them directly into an outlet.”
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, December is the peak month for home candle fires, with 24 percent of all candle-related fires occurring in December or January, with most due to candles placed too close to flammable holiday decorations. Each year, candles are responsible for an estimated 15,600 residential fires a year, causing 150 deaths, 1,270 injuries, and $539 million in property damage.
Cold winter months can prompt residents to use a variety of ways to heat their home. Space heaters and fire places are good sources of warmth and can be safe if used properly, but according to the National Fire Protection Association, space heaters account for about one-third of home heating fires and 80 percent of home heating fire deaths annually. Almost half of these fires occur in December, January and February and most commonly, like with candles, it is due to placing the heater too close to flammable objects.
The NFPA recommends the following safety precautions when using heating equipment:
• Keep anything that can burn at least three feet away from heating equipment such as a portable space heater, fireplace, wood-burning stove or furnace. The three-foot safety zone includes furniture, drapes, electronics — anything that can burn.
• Have a three-foot “kid-free zone” around open fires and space heaters.
• Never use your oven to heat your home.
• Have a qualified professional install stationary space heating equipment, water heaters or central heating equipment according to the local codes and manufacturer’s instructions.
• Remember to turn portable heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed.
• Always use only the type of fuel specified by the manufacturer for fuel burning space heaters.
• Make sure the fireplace has a sturdy screen to stop sparks from flying into the room. Ashes should be cool before putting them in a metal container. Keep the container a safe distance away from your home.
• Do not burn Christmas tree branches, treated wood, or wrapping paper in a home fireplace.
“Usually when it first starts getting cold is when we start seeing more fires due to the fact people don’t have their furnace maintained correctly,” Volk said. “You should have a certified person inspect it and clean the dust off, make sure the elements are working correctly.
“… Some people store gas cans inside the house, which is a common thing this time of year when some people use petroleum-filled space heaters to heat their garage, which is probably not the best idea, so it’s important to have good circulation and a working CO detector as well,” he continued.
“Don’t put extension cords under rugs, don’t overload an outlet. When you leave the house, unplug the space heater and any type of heater they may be using.”
Volk also suggested periodically practicing a fire escape plan from your residence with your family and making sure all smoke detectors and CO detectors are less than 10 years old and have good batteries in them.
For more information about fire safety, visit the Missouri Department of Fire Safety’s website, dfs.dps.mo.gov.
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or @NicoleRCooke.