Montgomery County Fire Marshal Jimmy Williams reissued the information below on Monday, following a weekend in which a man and his dog died in an overnight housefire and an 84-year-old man was severly burned over his entire body while performing lawn maintenance:
Heating is a major cause of home fires, especially during periods of extreme cold weather as residents turn to alternative heat sources. Officials urge caution with home heaters as temperatures drop.
As temperatures plummet over the next few days, residents will have many concerns, such as taking care of the three P’s ( Pets, Plants & Pipes ). As Firefighters, we are concerned that there is another danger that is often overlooked, that is the risk of injury or death from home heating fires. It is estimated that there are approximately 64,000 home heating fires annually in the United States, resulting in nearly $1 Billion dollars in damage, 540 civilian deaths and 1400 injuries.
The high cost of home heating fuels and utilities has caused many Americans to search for alternative home heating sources such as wood burning stoves, space heaters, and fireplaces. Heating is one of the leading causes of residential fires. Over one-quarter of these fires result from improper maintenance of equipment, specifically the failure to clean the equipment.
Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning is another danger when using heating equipment fueled by fossil fuel. It occurs most often when equipment is not vented properly. CO deaths have been on the rise since 1999. On average there were 181 unintentional non-fire deaths from CO poisoning associated with consumer products per year from 2004-2006 compared to 123 from 1999-2001 (Source: Consumer Product Safety Commission). Carbon monoxide poisoning is most fatal to adults age 65 or older.
The number one safety recommendation is to first and foremost have working smoke detectors throughout the home, especially in all sleeping areas. Homes with gas appliances must also have a Carbon Monoxide Detector on each floor. Having a working smoke alarm dramatically increases your chances of surviving a fire.
Preventing Home Heating Fires
In 2003-2006, the leading factor contributing to home heating fires (28%) and deaths (46%) was heating equipment too close to things that can burn, such as upholstered furniture, clothing, mattress, or bedding (Source: NFPA). Many heating fires can be prevented by following basic safety tips when dealing with any heating equipment:
• Keep or maintain a 3 foot clearance between all heating equipment and anything that can burn.
• Inspect and maintain heating equipment regularly for safety.
• Be sure to have fixed space heaters installed by a qualified technician, according to manufacturer’s instructions or applicable codes. Or, make sure a qualified technician checks to see the unit has been properly installed.
• When buying a new, portable space heater, make sure it has the label showing it is listed by a recognized testing laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
• Space heaters should be turned off every time you leave the room and before going to bed.
• Choose space heaters that turn off automatically if they tip over.
• Never use a space heater to dry clothing.
• Do not use your oven to heat your home.
• Install smoke alarms in every bedroom, outside each sleeping area, and on every level of the home. For the best protection, interconnect all smoke alarms throughout the home. When one sounds, they all sound.
• Test smoke alarms monthly.
• Install and maintain carbon monoxide alarms to avoid risk of carbon monoxide poisoning
Wood Burning Stoves and Fireplaces
• Use a metal or glass fireplace screen to keep sparks from hitting nearby carpets or furniture.
• Be sure the fireplace or stove is installed properly. Wood stoves should have adequate clearance (3 feet) from combustible surfaces and proper floor support and protection.
• Wood stoves should be of good quality, solid construction and design, and should be evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
• The stove should be burned hot twice a day for 15-30 minutes to reduce the amount of creosote buildup.
• Have your chimney inspected annually and cleaned if necessary, especially if it has not been used for some time.
• Don’t use excessive amounts of paper to build fires in fireplaces. It is possible to ignite creosote in the chimney by overbuilding the fire.
• Make sure your fireplace has a sturdy screen to prevent sparks from flying into the room.
• Keep flammable materials away from your fireplace mantle. A spark from the fireplace could easily ignite these materials.
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• 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.
• Do not use flammable liquids to start or accelerate any fire.
• Never burn charcoal indoors. Burning charcoal can give off lethal amounts of carbon monoxide.
• Allow fireplace and wood stove ashes to cool before disposing in a metal container.
• Check to ensure the heater has a thermostat control mechanism.
• Choose a heater that will turn off automatically if it tips over.
• Never dry clothes or store objects on stop of the heater.
• Never use extension cords with electric heaters.
• Keep anything that may burn at least 3 feet away from the heater.
• Never allow children to play with, or around, the heater.
• Keep space heaters at least 3 feet away from anything that can burn – including furniture, blankets, curtains, and paper products.
United States Fire Administration
National Fire Protection Association
Agencies:Ft. Bend County Fire Marshal http://www.co.fort-bend.tx.us/getSitePage.asp?sitePage=5559 Harris County Fire Marshal
http://www.co.harris.tx.us/fmarshal/ Montgomery County Fire Marshal