Martinez resident Marie Pat Oglesby died in a Christmas Eve house fire.
Although no cause for the blaze has been identified yet, many fires during the winter months can be traced back to poor maintenance of heating units and alternative heating sources, authorities said.
Regular maintenance and simple precautions can keep homes warm with maximum safety.
"On a yearly basis, (the public) needs to have their heating and air-conditioning units checked and serviced," Martinez Fire Department Battalion Chief Danny Coleman said. "The same for their fireplace. It needs to checked, and cleaned, if necessary."
On average, Coleman said, improper maintenance leads to four or five fireplace-related fires and two or three heating unit fires.
Martinez Fire Department Battalion Fire Chief Danny Kuhlmann performs a fire safety inspection. Some house fires are caused by improperly maintained heating systems.
"Home heating is one of the leading causes of fires in the United States," he said. "Over 6,000 people die (nationwide) in house fires each year, and 275 of those are in Georgia."
Coleman also warns that space heaters, if used unwisely, can contribute to fires.
"Space heaters need to have plenty of space around them," he said. "We want at least 3 feet of space between it and a bed, a wall or a couch."
He said it also is important to use the heater's recommended fuel, rest it on a solid surface and purchase a space heater with an automatic shut-off sensor in case it falls over.
Many gas-fueled heaters produce carbon monoxide, and carbon monoxide fatalities have increased nationwide, Coleman said. He suggests anyone using a kerosene or other fuel heater to equip their home with a carbon monoxide detector.
Standard equipment for any home, regardless of how they are heated, Coleman said, should be smoke detectors. He said a house should have smoke detectors in every room except the kitchen and bathroom.
"The smoke detector issue cannot be stressed enough, because that's the only thing that's going to wake you up in the middle of the night if there is a fire," he said.
The Martinez Fire Department provides free courtesy inspections of homes, and will also help residents develop an escape plan in case of a fire. For more information, call the department at 863-7745.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Fire Administration offer several fire safety tips for the winter months on their Web site at www.usfa.fema.gov. Some of those tips include:
Keep trash and other combustibles away from heating sources.
Don't use an oven as a home heating device. It can be a source of potentially toxic fumes.
Don't use space heaters in bathrooms or any place it may come into contact with water.
Use a hair dryer or hot water to thaw frozen pipes. A metal pipe could conduct the heat of an open flame and ignite the wall.
Be careful not to overload the circuit of an electric heater.
Throw away hot ashes inside a metal container at a safe distance from the home.
Keep a glass or metal screen in front of a fireplace opening to prevent embers or sparks from jumping out.
Never burn charcoal indoors as it gives off carbon monoxide.
Don't use flammable liquids to start a fire.
Avoid wearing loose clothing around fireplaces and space heaters.
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