Keeping your home safe from winter fire hazards

Published on Wed, Jan 16, 2013
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As cold weather sets in, we look to furnaces, wood stoves, and space heaters to keep us warm. But if it’s hot enough to heat a house, it’s hot enough to start a fire, so common sense and a healthy dose of respect should be involved when heating homes for the winter.

According to North Whatcom Fire and Rescue (NWFR), an estimated 900 portable heater fires in residential buildings are reported to U.S. fire departments each year, leading to 70 deaths, 150 injuries and $53 million in property damage. An estimated 52 percent of home portable heater fires are caused because they are too close to items that can burn, such as bedding.

Wood stoves cause more than  4,000 residential fires each year in the U.S., often due to dirty pipes and chimneys or cracks and weathered seals. NWFR recommends using only seasoned wood for fuel in wood stoves, inspecting and cleaning pipes and chimneys once a year, and inspecting wood stoves for damage monthly.

Electric space heaters should not be used as platforms to dry gloves and hats, and should be plugged directly into the wall outlet instead of into an extension cord. Check to make sure that your electric heater is inspected by a nationally recognized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL), and that it has a thermostat control mechanism and an automatic off switch in case it falls over.

Kerosene heaters should never be filled with gasoline or camp stove fuel – use crystal clear K-1 kerosene. Only refuel kerosene heaters when cool, and refuel outside the home. Never overfill portable heaters, and only use kerosene heaters in a well-ventilated area.

Fireplaces should be cleaned frequently because flammable creosote can build up in chimneys and flues. Make sure the damper is open before starting a fire, and use a heavy-duty screen to catch flying sparks and prevent heavy logs from falling out of the fireplace. 

Take care when emptying ash from the fireplace – allow ashes to cool, store the ashes in an airtight metal container, and keep the ash container at least 10 feet away from any buildings. Douse and saturate ashes with water.

Fires can occur for a variety of reasons, and that’s why North Whatcom Fire and Rescue recommends having a working smoke alarm and a home escape plan that everyone in the house knows by heart.