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Posted on: January 1, 2022

Winter Fire Safety Tips

Winter Fire Safety Tips

The high cost of home heating fuels and utilities has caused many people to search for alternate sources of home heating. The use of wood-burning stoves is growing and space heaters are selling rapidly. Fireplaces are burning wood and man-made logs. All these methods of heating may be acceptable. They are, however, a major contributing factor in residential fires. Many of these fires can be prevented. The following fire safety tips can help you maintain a fire-safe home this winter.

Kerosene Heaters

Be sure your heater is in good working condition. Inspect exhaust parts for carbon buildup. Be sure the heater has an emergency shut-off in case the heater is tipped over. Never use fuel-burning appliances without proper room venting. Burning fuel (coal, kerosene, or propane, for example) can produce deadly fumes. Use only fuel recommended by the heater manufacturer. Never introduce a fuel into a unit not designed for that type of fuel. Keep kerosene, or other flammable liquids stored in approved metal containers, in well-ventilated storage areas, outside the house. Never fill the heater while it is operating or hot. When refueling an oil or kerosene unit, avoid overfilling. Do not use cold fuel for it may expand in the tank as it warms up. Refueling should be done outside of the home (or outdoors). Keep young children away from space heaters, especially when they are wearing nightgowns or other loose clothing that can be easily ignited. When using a fuel-burning appliance in the bedroom, be sure there is proper ventilation to prevent a buildup of carbon monoxide. 

Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an invisible, odorless gas. It is a common by-product of incomplete combustion, produced when fossil fuels (like oil, gas, or coal) burn. Because you can’t see, taste, or smell it, carbon monoxide can kill you before you know it’s there. Exposure to lower levels over time can make you sick. CO can be produced by gas or oil appliances like a furnace, clothes dryer, range, oven, water heater, or space heater. When appliances and vents work properly, and there is enough fresh air in your home to allow complete combustion, the trace amounts of CO produced are typically not dangerous. And normally, CO is safely vented outside your home. Problems arise when something goes wrong. An appliance can malfunction; a furnace heat exchanger can crack; vents can clog; or debris may block a chimney or flue. Fireplaces, wood-burning stoves, charcoal grills, or gas logs can produce unsafe levels of CO if they are unvented or not properly vented. Exhaust can seep into the home from vehicles left running in an attached garage. All these sources can contribute to a CO problem in the home. 

Wood Stoves and Fireplaces 

Be sure the fireplace or stove is installed properly. Wood stoves should have adequate clearance (36") from combustible surfaces, and proper floor support and protection. Wood stoves should be of good quality, have solid construction and design, and should be UL listed. Have the chimney inspected annually and cleaned if necessary, especially if it has not been used for some time. Do not use flammable liquids to start or accelerate any fire. Keep a glass or metal screen in front of the fireplace opening, to prevent embers or sparks from jumping out, unwanted material from going in, and help prevent the possibility of burns to occupants. The stove should be burned hot twice a day for 15-30 minutes to reduce the amount of creosote buildup. Do not use excessive amounts of paper to build roaring fires in fireplaces. It is possible to ignite creosote in the chimney by overbuilding the fire. Never burn charcoal indoors. Burning charcoal can give off lethal amounts of carbon monoxide. Keep flammable materials away from your fireplace mantel. A spark from the fireplace could easily ignite these materials. Before you go to sleep, be sure your fire is out. Never close your damper with hot ashes in the fireplace. A closed damper will help the fire to heat up again and will force toxic carbon monoxide into the house. If synthetic logs are used, follow the directions on the package. Never break a synthetic log apart to quicken the fire or use more than one log at a time. They often burn unevenly, releasing higher levels of carbon monoxide. 

Furnace Heating

It is important that you have your furnace inspected to ensure that it is in good working condition. Be sure all furnace controls and emergency shut-offs are in proper working condition. Leave furnace repairs to qualified specialists. Do not attempt repairs yourself unless you are qualified. Inspect the walls and ceiling near the furnace and along the chimney line. If the wall is hot or discolored, additional pipe insulation or clearance may be required. Check the flue pipe and pipe seams. Make sure they are well supported, free of holes, and cracks. Soot along or around seams may be an indicator of a leak. The chimney should be solid with no cracks or loose bricks. All unused flue openings should be sealed with solid masonry. Keep trash and other combustibles away from the heating system. 

Other Fire Safety Tips

Never discard hot ashes inside or near the home. Place them in a metal container outside and well away from the house. Never use a range or an oven as a supplemental heating device. Not only is it a safety hazard, but it can also be a source of potentially toxic fumes. If you use an electric heater, be sure not to overload the circuit. Only use extension cords that have the necessary rating to carry the amp load. Choose an extension cord the same size or larger than the appliance electrical cord. Avoid using electrical space heaters in bathrooms, or other areas where they may come in contact with water. Never try to thaw frozen water pipes with a blow torch or other open flame. The pipe could conduct the heat and ignite the wall structure inside the wall space. Use hot water or a UL labeled device such as a handheld dryer for thawing. If windows are used as emergency exits in your home, practice using them in the event fire should strike. Be sure that all the windows open easily. Home escape ladders are recommended. If there is a fire hydrant near your home you can assist the fire department by keeping the hydrant clear of snow so in the event it is needed, it can be located. 

Finally 

Be sure every level of your home has a working smoke alarm, and be sure to check and clean it on a monthly basis. Plan and practice a home escape plan with your family. Clean the oven and range regularly. Keep kitchen clutter away from the range and oven. Be extra careful with matches and candles. Candles should be made of flame retarding materials - look for a label stating such. Always place candles in noncombustible containers. Avoid loose, flammable clothing. Clothing often catches on fire around candles, matches, fireplaces, and ranges (both electric and gas). Keep decorations away from sources of heat such as open flames, electric heaters, and exposed electric bulbs. 

These winter fire safety tips from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, United States Fire Administration, and the City of Carbondale Fire Department. For more information, please contact the City of Carbondale Fire Department at 457-3234.

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