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Maintenance can prevent winter fires

Posted: December 19, 2012 - 1:01am

Roy and Evelyn Walters won’t be enjoying Christmas in their Martinez home. It was destroyed by fire on Nov. 26.

The couple escaped the fire and were not injured.

Fire officials say a little maintenance and prevention can help keep a fire from ruining the holidays, and encourage dousing hazards before they spark.

The most important part of any homeowner’s fire prevention plan are smoke detectors, said Martinez-Columbia Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Danny Kuhlmann.

“Up-to-date, working smoke detectors, the more the merrier,” Kuhlmann said. “The more smoke detectors you have, the more time you have to get out. Time is of the essence.”

Most homes have at least one smoke detector, according to the National Fire Protection Association. But more than 60 percent of home fire deaths are in homes without working smoke detectors.

Kuhlmann said his department responds to an increased number of home fires in the winter, mainly because of increased use of home heating equipment.

Home heating equipment is the second leading cause of residential fires behind cooking, according to the NFPA. Space heaters caused 80 percent of home heating fires between 2006 and 2010.

The key to safe operation of a space heater is space, Kuhlmann said. They should be at least 3 feet away from anything flammable, including drapes and furniture. Heaters should have an emergency shut-off in case the machine is knocked over or overheats.

“For fuel heaters, make sure you use the proper type of fuel, fuel it outside and let it cool before you fuel it,” Kuhlmann said.

The fire at the Walters’ home started when hot material escaped the chimney or fire box.

Kuhlmann said fireplaces and chimneys should be inspected annually by a certified chimney sweep to detect cracks or leaks.

Always use a fireplace screen or door and never burn anything except seasoned hardwood. Burning pine in an indoor fireplace can leave behind creosote, which is flammable.

“Creosote, it’s like an oily substance,” Kuhlmann said. “It’s just like turpentine.”

HVAC units also should be inspected and serviced annually.

“Heaters need to be run once a month, just for a few minutes, just to keep the dust out of the combustion chamber,” Kuhlmann said.

Holiday decorations can also be a hazard. Holiday lights need to be approved through Universal Laboratories and should be used only in the area directed. Kuhlmann warned against overloading outlets.

Live Christmas trees should be kept away from heat sources and vents.

“Check the water daily and when no one is in the room, turn (the lights) off,” Kuhlmann said.

An open candle flame can be especially dangerous, so Kuhlmann recommends electric candles. All decorations and lights should be turned off at bedtime and when no one is home.

Even with precautions, Kuhlmann said he expects his department to respond to an increased number of home fires this winter.

“It’s just a bad time of year to have anything happen.”

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