The high cost of home heating fuels and utilities have caused many Americans to search for alternate sources of home heating. The use of wood-burning stoves is growing and space heaters are selling rapidly or coming out of storage. Fireplaces are burning wood and man-made logs.
All of these methods of heating may be acceptable. They are, however, a major contributing factor in residential fires. Many of these fires can be prevented. Follow these fire safety tips to help you maintain a fire safe home this winter.
- Be sure your heater is in good working condition. Inspect exhaust parts for carbon build-up. Be sure the heater has an emergency shutoff in case the heater is tipped over.
- Never use fuel burning appliances without proper room venting. Burning fuel (kerosene, coal, or propane, for example) produces deadly fumes.
- Use only the fuel recommended by the heater manufacturer. Never introduce a fuel into a unit not designed for that type fuel.
- Keep kerosene or other flammable liquids stored in approved metal containers, in well ventilated storage areas, outside of the house.
- Never fill the heater while it is operating or hot. When refueling an oil or kerosene unit, avoid overfilling. Use caution with 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 safely 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.
Wood stoves and fireplaces
Wood stoves and fireplaces are becoming a very common heat source in homes. Careful attention to safety can minimize their fire hazard.
To use them safely:
- Be sure the stove or fireplace is installed properly. Woodstoves should have adequate clearance (36") from combustible surfaces, and proper floor support and protection.
- Wood stoves should be of good quality, 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.
- Don't use excessive amounts of paper to build roaring fires in fireplaces. It is possible to ignite creosote in the chimney by over building the fire.
- Never burn charcoal indoors. Burning charcoal can give off lethal amounts of carbon monoxide.
- Keep flammable materials away from your 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 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.
It is important that you have your furnace inspected to insure that 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 pipes and pipe seams. Are they well supported? Free of holes and cracks? Soot along or around the seams may be an indicator of a leak.
- Is the chimney solid? No cracks or loose bricks? All unused flue openings should be sealed with solid masonry.
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 supplementary heating devise. Not only is it a safety hazard, it can be a source of potentially toxic fumes.
- If you use an electric heater, be sure not to overload the circuit. Only use extension cords which have the necessary rating to carry the amp load.
- Avoid using electric 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 blow torch or other open flame (otherwise 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 hand-held 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 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.
- Be sure every level of your home has a working smoke detector, and be sure to check and clean it on a monthly basis.
- Contact your local fire department if you have questions on home fire safety.
For more information, call the Oswego County Emergency Management Office at 315/591-9150.
Source: Federal Emergency Management Agency and US Fire Administration.
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