Bill Devore was lucky, authorities said.
On Nov. 18, no one was injured and his Pecan Drive home received only minor damage when radiant heat from his wood stove flue caught a wall on fire.
"It's the first chimney fire of the year," Martinez-Columbia Fire Rescue Battalion Chief James Burnett said. "It's pretty common because everybody likes their fireplaces."
Many home fires, which occur much more often in the winter, can be traced to heating equipment and alternative heat sources such as HVAC systems, fireplaces, wood stoves and space heaters, officials say.
Wood stoves alone cause more than 9,000 residential fires nationwide each year, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. Heating equipment is the leading cause of fires from December through February and trails only cooking equipment in home fires year round, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
Martinez-Columbia Battalion Chief and Training Officer Danny Kuhlmann said his department always sees a rise in heating-related fires during the winter. But regular maintenance, cleaning and simple precautions could douse fire hazards before they spark.
"(Residents) need to have all those kinds of systems checked yearly," he said.
An annual inspection, and cleaning as necessary, by a certified chimney sweep or HVAC technician can detect such hazards as the buildup of creosote, a chemical substance that forms when wood burns and can build up in chimneys and cause a chimney fire if not removed. Kuhlmann said avoiding moist "green" wood and pine can help prevent creosote buildup.
"Pine has a lot more sap in it, a lot more moisture in it," Kuhlmann said. "It's better to burn a dried, cured hardwood."
Kuhlmann said alternative heat sources such as space heaters are often the culprits in winter home fires.
But when used properly, space heaters should not be a hazard.
"They need to make sure they keep plenty of space around them," Kuhlmann said, adding that space heaters should be placed at least three feet from furniture, drapes, beds or walls.
Space heaters need to be UL (Underwriters Laboratories) approved and have a safety switch that turns the heater off if it is tipped over.
Smoke detectors, no matter what the cause of a fire, are needed in every household to save lives, he said.
"It's a must," Kuhlmann said. "One in every room except the bathroom and the kitchen to include the hallway."
With Thanksgiving over, residents will be climbing in attics in search of Christmas decorations, which can be a fire hazard if not properly maintained, Kuhlmann said.
"Every three to five years, you should replace your Christmas lights with UL-approved lights because they get worn over the years, especially outside-type lights," Kuhlmann said.
Lights also need to be inspected for frayed or worn wires, broken bulbs or cracked sockets or wire insulation. Residents should not connect more than three strings of lights or overload electrical outlets.
Dried-out Christmas trees combined with candles or electric lights are a huge hazard inside a holiday home.
Kuhlmann recommends starting the season with a fresh, moist tree and keeping it moist. A simple test can determine whether a tree is dried out. Run a hand along a branch or shake the tree. If a lot of needles come off, the tree is already dry.
"(People) should check it when they buy it, and about every other day they need to pull on it, do the moisture test by pulling on the pine needles," Kuhlmann said. "They need to make sure there's plenty of water. The water should be checked daily."
A few precautions will help reduce the risk of a winter home fire, Kuhlmann said. Devore was lucky, Kuhlmann said, by catching the fire early and immediately calling the fire department.
"The least thing it is going to do is cause a lot of smoke damage to the residence," he said. "That's the least it can do. The most it can do is take lives."
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