The holiday season is upon us and with it comes cold weather. Unfortunately, it is at this time of the year that we see an increase in home fires. These fires can result in unspeakable damage and loss, to not only treasured family property and mementos, but can also occasionally cause injuries and even death. Almost every one of these fires is preventable by following some simple rules and safety measures, Sussex County Fire Marshal & Fire Coordinator Virgil Rome said.
The winter of 2016-2017 saw Sussex County again hit with bitterly cold temperatures. The Sussex County fire service responded to several fires that resulted from frozen pipes, improperly utilizing space heaters, overloading extension cords, having clogged chimneys and carelessly discarding fireplace or woodstove ashes, Rome said.
With respect to preventing and remediating frozen pipes, Rome recommends the following:
- If you have a hidden leak somewhere in your plumbing system, the water could potentially seep into an area with electric wiring. If the wiring’s insulation isn’t up to par, the water could generate sparks that could start a fire. To avoid this scenario, keep an eye out for unexpectedly high water bills or discolored spots in your home that could indicate a leak.
- The other major fire risk is somewhat ironic in that it arises when you try to protect your pipes from freezing in the winter. Sometimes the danger comes from preventative measures like using heat tape to wrap pipes that are located in uninsulated parts of the home like attics or under the porch. If heat tape isn’t applied properly, it can overheat and start a blaze. In fact, the Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that faulty heat tape accounts for 1,500 fires, 100 injuries and 10 deaths each year.
- Some people also run into trouble after pipes have already frozen by using a torch to thaw it out – for safety purposes, you should never use an open flame on frozen pipes. Instead, use a hair dryer, heat lamp or even a hot towel to melt the ice without risking a fire.
Some other winter safety tips include:
- Space heaters need space. All portable space heaters require a three-foot clearance from anything that can burn and should always be turned off when leaving the room or to go to sleep.
- When purchasing a new heating unit, make sure it carries the mark of an independent testing lab such as UL. Make sure that all installations are completed according to the manufactures instructions and are done by a qualified technician. Consult your local Fire Official if more information is needed.
- Wood stoves, fireplaces, chimneys and chimney connections and all heating equipment need to be inspected annually by a professional and cleaned as per manufactures recommendations. If the manufacturer doesn’t state how often to clean, it should be done at least annually.
- When cleaning the old ashes from your stove or fireplace, place all ashes in a metal can and remove the can from the house. The can should be placed away from the home and left in the metal can until cooled or assured that they completely extinguished. Do not place them on a porch or in a cardboard or wooden box. Ashes can stay hot for up to a week.
- Portable Kerosene heaters must be fueled in well-ventilated areas. Keep the unit away from any combustibles. Never use gasoline and remember. kerosene is to be stored in a blue can only! Do not re-fuel your portable heaters or generators while they are running!
- All heating units described here can burn you just by touch. It’s important to monitor all units when in operation, especially if you have small children in the home.
- Make sure your have proper ventilation in your home. All of the devices mentioned can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. A Carbon Monoxide Detector should be installed in each and every home.
- Make sure all of the smoke detectors in your home are working properly. Change the batteries twice a year and test your detector monthly.
- Practice your home fire escape plan. If you don’t have one, create one. Always have two ways out of your home and have everyone meet at a designated meeting place outside the home. If you need assistance with designing your plan contact your local fire department.
Finally, please consider the following:
- Cooking is the leading cause of home fires and home fire injuries in the United States. U.S. Fire Administration (USFA)
- When cooking, stay in the kitchen and keep an eye on the stove.
- Don’t overload extension cords or wall outlets. A fire caused by a faulty electrical system can destroy a home and everything in it within minutes. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)
- If a cooking fire starts, smother it with a pot lid. Never throw water on a grease fire.
- Be sure to close doors while evacuating or fleeing from a fire. Closing doors can help smother a fire by depriving it of oxygen which it needs to burn. In addition, closing doors may buy time and prevent flame spread while the Fire Department is responding.
- If there is a fire – get out and stay out. Never go back into a burning home.
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