It might have seemed strange - Martinez firefighters repeatedly setting a home on fire on purpose.
But the practice session inside an 80-year-old donated home on Old Petersburg Road this past Thursday will come in handy as the season for home fires begins.
Martinez Fire Department Battalion Chief Danny Kuhlmann said the number of house fires increases when the weather cools. He said that's mostly because of fireplaces and other home heating appliances.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, heating equipment is the leading cause of home fires from December through February, trailing only cooking equipment in house fire causes annually.
Portable electric heaters, portable kerosene heaters, wood stoves, fireplaces with inserts and room gas heaters are the most common culprits, according to the association.
"It's because people are inside more and they get careless," said Martinez Battalion Chief James Burnett.
Portable space heaters should be turned off when homeowners leave the room. Kuhlmann stressed that space heaters should be placed at least 3 feet away from anything that could burn.
"People just get space heaters too close to their bed and all," Burnett said. "Heat gets close to the blankets, and the bed catches."
Almost half of all home fire deaths result from fires that start between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., according to the association.
Burnett said homeowners should be sure to change smoke detector batteries when daylight-saving time ends at 2 a.m. Oct. 31.
"Any time of year, the smoke detector is like a sleeping dog," Burnett said. "It sniffs the air during the night, and it's the first thing to alert you (to smoke). And the first sense you lose when you go to sleep is your sense of smell.''
Most home fires can be prevented by having heating units inspected by a professional to ensure there are no carbon monoxide leaks or flammable lint and dust in the system, fire officials say.
Annual chimney sweeps also clean the buildup of flammable creosote, found in soot.
"As you burn in your fireplace year to year, (creosote) builds up so quick and it will catch fire," Burnett said.
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