Fire safety tips offered ahead of heating season
SHAMOKIN - Each year, fire claims the lives of 3,400 Americans, injures 17,500 and causes billions of dollars worth of damage. People living in rural areas are more than twice as likely to die in a fire than those living in mid-sized cities or suburban areas. The misuse of wood stoves, portable space heaters and kerosene heaters are especially common risks in rural areas.
The United States Fire Administration, National Fire Protection Association and the Shamokin Fire Bureau offer the following winter fire safety tips.
All heating equipment needs space. Keep anything that can ignite at least three feet away. Supervise children whenever a wood stove or space heater is being used. Have a three-foot "kid-free" zone around open fires and space heaters.
Wood stoves cause more than 4,000 residential fires every year. Carefully follow the manufacturer's installation and maintenance instructions. Look for solid construction, such as plate steel or cast iron metal. Check for cracks and inspect legs, hinges and door seals for smooth joints and seams.
Use only seasoned wood for fuel, not green wood, artificial logs or trash. In pellet stoves, burn only dry, seasoned wood pellets. Inspect and clean pipes and chimneys annually and check monthly for damage or obstructions.
Electric space heaters
Buy only heaters evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL). Check to make sure it has a thermostat control mechanism and will switch off automatically if the heater falls over.
Heaters are not dryers or tables; don't dry clothes or store objects on top of your heater. Plug space heaters directly into wall outlets and never into an extension cord or power strip. Always unplug your electric space heater when not in use.
Buy only heaters evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL), and check with your local fire department on the legality of kerosene heater use in your community.
Never fill your heater with gasoline or camp stove fuel; both flare up easily. Only use crystal clear K-1 kerosene. When refueling, allow the appliance to cool first and then refuel outside. Never overfill any portable heater. Use the kerosene heater in a well-ventilated room.
Fireplaces regularly build up creosote in their chimneys and need to be cleaned frequently. Chimneys should be inspected for obstructions and cracks to prevent deadly chimney and roof fires.
Check to make sure the damper is open before starting any fire. Never burn trash, paper or green wood in a fireplace. These materials cause heavy creosote buildup and are difficult to control. Use a screen heavy enough to stop rolling logs and big enough to cover the entire opening of the fireplace to catch flying sparks. Don't wear loose-fitting clothes near any open flame.
Make sure the fire is completely out before leaving the house or going to bed. Allow ashes to cool before disposing of them. Place ashes in a tightly covered metal container and keep the ash container at least 10 feet away from your home and any other nearby buildings. Never empty the ash directly into a trash can. Douse and saturate the ashes with water.
A working smoke alarm dramatically increases a person's chances of surviving a fire. Also, practice a family home escape plan.
A chimney fire in action can be dramatic. Indications of a chimney fire are loud cracking and popping noises, a lot of dense smoke and an intense, hot smell.
Chimney fires can burn explosively - noisy and dramatic enough to be detected by neighbors or people passing by. Flames or dense smoke may shoot from the top of the chimney. Homeowners report being startled by a low rumbling sound that reminds them of a freight train or a low flying airplane.
However, some chimney fires burn slowly and don't get enough air or fuel to be dramatic or visible. But, the temperatures they reach are very high and can cause as much damage to the chimney structure - and nearby combustible parts of the house - as more spectacular chimney fires. With proper chimney system care, chimney fires are entirely preventable.
Chimneys should be inspected regularly by a CSIA Certifed chimney sweep.
If you think a chimney fire has occurred, call a CSIA Certified chimney sweep for a professional evaluation.
Furnaces should be inspected and cleaned yearly, and motors and bearings should be lubricated as needed. Replace air filters as needed.