Area Fire Chiefs Warn of Fire Danger with Impending Colder Weather

Jan 10, 2011

The Fire Chiefs of the Washington-Metropolitan Area are warning area residents of the significant fire danger that tends to occur with cold weather. 

“With the anticipated colder temperatures, Fire Chiefs from across the region are concerned that we could see an increase in fires that are, many times, absolutely preventable,” said Montgomery County Fire & Rescue Chief Richard Bowers, who serves as Chairman of the COG Fire Chiefs Committee. “All area fire departments are anticipating potential fires starting as a result of combustibles too close to a heat source, improperly discarded fireplace ashes, malfunctioning heating systems and/or associated electrical overloads.  Again, many of these fires can be prevented by our residents being aware and taking proper precautions.”

To raise the awareness of area residents and assist them in taking proper precautions, the COG Fire Chiefs offer the following fire safety tips and information: 

WOOD STOVES, FIREPLACES AND FIREPLACE ASHES

Hot coals, hidden in a pile of ashes and thus well insulated, can stay hot for up to 4 days!  Never empty ashes into a paper or plastic bag, cardboard box, or other similar container.

To discard of hot ashes: DO allow ashes to cool (4 days) before removing from fire place, moisten the ashes and then place them in a metal container, with a tight fitting lid, outside and well away from the house (at least 20 feet away from the home and combustibles).

Be sure the stove or fireplace is installed properly by a professional.

Wood stoves should have adequate clearance (36”) from combustible surfaces, and proper floor support and protection. 

Wood stoves 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 igniting combustibles outside the fireplace, unwanted material from going in, and help prevent the possibility of burns to occupants. 

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.

SPACE HEATERS

Space heaters need space. Portable space heaters need a three-foot clearance from anything that can burn – including clothing.

When buying heaters, look for devices that are UL (Underwriters Laboratory) listed with automatic shutoff features that shut the unit off if it is tipped over.

Never use a fuel burning (kerosene, propane) type of heater in the home because of the deadly carbon monoxide gas those appliances produce.  

Turn them off when you go to bed or leave the room.

Plug power cords directly into outlets and never into an extension cord.

HEATING SYSTEMS 

Be sure your heating system is in good working condition. Have a licensed representative inspect and service all parts of your furnace and exhaust parts for carbon build-up.

Be sure all furnace controls and emergency shutoffs 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 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.

Keep trash and other combustibles away from the heating system (at least 36 inch clearance all the way around the appliance).

OTHER FIRE SAFETY TIPS                       

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.

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 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.

FINALLY...

Be sure every level of your home has a working smoke alarm, and be sure to test and clean it on a monthly basis.

Have a Home Escape Plan in case of fire!  Make sure you practice the plan so that everyone in the home knows what to do!

Have a Carbon Monoxide alarm if you have gas/fuel appliances in your home or your garage is attached to your home.

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