December brings holiday cheer and chilly temperatures.
Cranking up the heat, decorating for Christmas and holiday cooking also increase the risk of home fires, said Columbia County Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Danny Kuhlmann.
“Everything comes in stages,” Kuhlmann said.
The National Fire Protection Agency reports that home heating equipment accounted for 53,600 home fires, 14 percent of all reported home fires in 2011, and half of home heating fires happen in December, January and February.
Many home fires during the winter can be traced to heating equipment and alternative heating sources such as fireplaces, wood stoves and space heaters.
Kuhlmann said some basic maintenance and preventive measures can keep residents safe and warm this winter.
“Fireplaces – the chimney should be inspected annually by a certified chimney sweep,” Kuhlmann said.
The annual inspection will detect hazards including cracks and creosote buildup. The chemical substance collects when wood burns and can cause a chimney fire if not removed.
Central heating systems also need to be inspected and cleaned annually.
The key to safe operation of a space heater is space, Kuhlmann said.
There should be at least 3 feet around the heater and it should be placed away from flammable items such as drapes and furniture.
“That’s important,” Kuhlmann said of the 3-foot rule. “Any type of space heater, make sure it is UL (Underwriters Laboratories) approved and has protection devices such as a kill switch if it gets flipped over.”
Smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are a must in every home. One should be placed in every room except the kitchen and bathroom.
Holiday decorations, if not properly maintained and put up, can cause fires. The NFPA reports than an average of 230 home fires started with Christmas trees from 2007 to 2011. All lights strings should be checked for damage and blown bulbs beforehand and should also be UL approved.
“Check all your cords and don’t overload outlets,” Kuhlmann said.
Christmas trees need to be placed away from heat sources such as fireplaces, heaters and vents.
“If you’re using a live tree, make sure you keep it watered,” Kuhlmann said.
All lights should be turned off when residents aren’t home or go to bed.
Candles should never be left unattended, especially in a home with pets and children, Kuhlmann said.
The holidays usually mean more time in the kitchen.
“Cooking is a big problem,” Kuhlmann said. “Make sure there are no kids in the kitchen while mom is cooking.”
Kuhlmann said to make sure the stove is turned off and never leave anything cooking unattended on the stove.