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Dec. 8, 2004

Wood-Burning Stoves and Kerosene Heaters Require Special Handling

The high costs of home heating fuels have led many Americans to search for alternate sources of home heating. Many homeowners are relying on wood-burning stoves and using fireplaces and kerosene heaters as alternative fuels.

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.

The Oswego County Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) shares these tips from the U.S. Fire Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help you maintain a fire-safe home this winter:

Wood stoves and fireplaces

Careful attention to safety can minimize the fire hazards of wood stoves and fireplaces. To use them safely:

  • Be sure the stove or fireplace is installed properly. Woodstoves should have at least 36 inches of clearance 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 to help prevent the possibility of burns to occupants.
  • The 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 the fireplace. 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 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 heat up again and can force toxic carbon monoxide into the house.
  • Synthetic logs often burn unevenly, releasing higher levels of carbon monoxide. 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.

Kerosene heaters

  • Be sure your heater is in good working condition. Inspect exhaust parts for carbon build-up. Be sure there is an emergency shutoff switch in case the heater is tipped over.
  • Never use fuel-burning appliances without proper room venting. Burning fuel including kerosene, coal, or propane 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 a well-ventilated storage area, 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, because it may expand in the tank as it warms up.
  • Refueling should be done outside of the home, not indoors.
  • 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.

For more information about emergency planning around the home, contact the Oswego County Local Emergency Planning Committee(LEPC), phone 591-9150.

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