Winter fire safety tips for the home

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By Carol A. Clark

New Mexico's fire marshal is urging fire safety for this coming winter season because the high cost of home heating fuels and utilities have some consumers searching for alternate sources of home heating.

The popularity and use of wood burning stoves is growing and space heaters are selling rapidly, or coming out of storage and fireplaces are now burning wood and man made logs, said State Fire Marshal John Standefer in a new release.

All these methods of heating are acceptable, he said, adding that they are, however a major contributing factor in residential fires throughout the country.

In a recent talk at the Betty Ehardt Senior Center, Los Alamos Fire Marshal Mike Thompson explained the importance of keeping any combustible materials such as drapes, bedspreads and clothes at least three-feet away from portable heaters. “This time of year we also encourage residents to have their furnaces checked out by a professional,” he said.

Some furnaces develop cracks, which can lead to carbon monoxide inside the home, Thompson said, and suggested residents install carbon monoxide detectors, especially those with wood-burning stoves or furnaces.

Many residential fires can be prevented and Standefer recommends the following fire safety tips to help residents maintain a fire safe home this winter season:

· 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. It is a safety hazard and can be a source of potentially toxic fumes.

· If you use an electric heater, be sure not to overload the circuit. Use only 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.

· Frozen water pipes? Never try to thaw them with a blowtorch or other open flame. The pipe could conduct the heat and ignite the inside of the wall. Use hot water or a UL-labeled device such as a hand held dryer for thawing.

· If windows are used as emergency exits in your home, practice using them in the event of a fire. 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 obstacles so it can be easily located.

· 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.

· Contact your local fire department for advice or if you have a question on Home Fire Safety.

For information about fire safety and prevention, go to the Federal Emergency Management Agency: United States Fire Administration at www.usfa.fema.gov.


Kerosene heater safety

· Be sure your heater is in good working condition. Inspect exhaust parts for carbon build-up. 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 the fuel recommended by the heater manufacturer. Never introduce a fuel into a unit not designed for that fuel.

· Keep kerosene and other flammable liquids stored in approved metal containers, in well-ventilated areas, outside of 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 because it may expand in the tank as it warms up, causing overflow.

· Refueling should be done outside of the home.

· Keep young children away from space heaters, especially when they are wearing night gowns or other loose-fitting clothing that can be easily ignited.

· When using a fuel-burning appliance in the bedroom, be sure there is proper ventilation to prevent a build-up of carbon monoxide.

Wood stove and fireplace safety

· Be sure the fireplace or stove is installed properly. Wood stoves should have adequate clearance – at least 36 inches – from combustible surfaces, and have proper floor support and protection.

· Wood stoves should be of good quality, solid construction and design, and should be UL listed.

· Have a chimney professionally inspected annually and cleaned if necessary, especially if it has not been used in some time.

· Do not use flammable liquids to start or accelerate a fire in a fireplace or wood stove.

· Keep a glass or metal screen in front of the fireplace opening to prevent embers or sparks from escaping and to prevent unwanted material from going into the fireplace, and to help prevent the possibility of burns to occupants.

· A wood-burning stove should be burned hot twice a day for 15 to 30 minutes to reduce the amount of creosote buildup.

· Don’t use excessive amounts of paper to build roaring fires in fireplaces. Overbuilding the fire could ignite creosote in the chimney.

· 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 fireplace fire is out. Never close your damper with hot ashes in the fireplace. A closed damper can help rekindle the fire, forcing 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, and never use more than one log at a time. They often burn unevenly, releasing higher levels of carbon monoxide.

Furnace heating safety

· It’s important that you have your furnace inspected to ensure that it is in good working condition.

· Be sure all furnace controls and emergency shutoffs 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. Are they well-supported, free of holes and cracks? Soot along or around seams can indicate a leak.

· Is the chimney solid, with cracks or loose bricks? All unused flue openings should be sealed with solid masonry.

· Keep trash and other combustibles away from the heating system.