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Jan. 13, 2006

Oswego County Fire Coordinator Cautions: Wood Stove Safety Must be a Priority!

Fulton - Safety while using wood stoves during the cold months of January and February is essential in protecting homes and life safety, Oswego County Fire Coordinator John Hinds said this week.

"In early December this year, we were averaging a structure fire every third day on a county-wide basis," he said. "Many of these fire were related to wood-burning stoves and fireplaces. Over the Christmas holiday alone, two structures were heavily damaged as the result of fire involving a wood-burning appliance.

"Not enough can be said about how important it is that people who use wood stoves for heating take precautions to prevent fires," he emphasized.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), more than 140,000 wood burning-related fires, 280 deaths and 2,500 injuries occur each year. In Oswego County during 2004, two of the eight fire-related deaths occurred in a home where the fire was attributed to a wood-burning stove.

"Many more people are using alternate sources of heat this winter in response to high fuel prices," Hinds noted. "We want to remind people that safety should be a priority in heating your home."

Some of the major causes of wood stove fires are:

  • Inadequate clearances from the unit to combustibles, such as walls, ceilings, floors, and furniture.
  • Excessive creosote build-up in the chimney. Creosote is a black substance that resembles a tarlike liquid or small black flakes. Creosote burns easily.
  • An improperly installed or poorly maintained chimney.
  • Improper installation and maintenance of the appliance.

"People should make sure their wood stoves have been installed properly and according to manufacturers' recommendations, and maintain them and operate them safely to prevent a fire," Hinds said.

In most municipalities, the installation of a wood-burning stove requires a permit from the building code officer. Homeowners are also advised to check with their own insurance company as to special procedures or inspection that may be required.

The following safety tips on wood stove safety are provided by the U.S. Fire Administration:

  • Be sure the stove or fireplace is installed properly. Woodstoves should have adequate clearance (36 inches) 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 to 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 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 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.

"Also, make sure you have a smoke detector on each level of your home and that it is operating properly," Hinds said. "Replace the batteries if necessary. Develop and practice an escape plan from all rooms in your home, especially bedrooms. Have a planned meeting location outside the home in the event of a fire. If a fire occurs, get out and stay out - call the fire department from another location."

Hinds said that smoke detectors in a home in the Town of Amboy in late December alerted the occupants to a fire involving a fireplace. The home was heavily damaged, but the smoke detectors did their job in alerting the sleeping family to a fire.

"The best way to protect your home from a fire is to prevent one," said Hinds. "We wish everyone a safe and happy new year."

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