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Home heating can lead to fires

Posted: Sunday, January 10, 2010

With the deep cold that has chilled the Southeast expected to continue this week, fire officials understand that residents will keep cranking up their home heating equipment.

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Though staying warm is the objective, safety should be a priority, said Martinez-Columbia Fire Rescue Battalion Chief and Training Officer Danny Kuhlmann.

"Home heating is one of the leading causes of fires in the U.S.," Kuhlmann said.

Home fires occur more often during the winter, and many can be traced to heating equipment and alternative heating sources such as fireplaces, wood stoves and space heaters, officials say.

Space heaters accounted for a third of the home heating fires and 75 percent of home heating deaths in 2006, according to the National Fire Prevention Association.

Kuhlmann said the key to the safe operation of a space heater is space.

"All space heaters need space," Kuhlmann said. "We recommend at least three feet of space around all space heaters away from drapes, couches, beds."

All electrical heaters should be UL (Underwriters Laboratories) approved and have an emergency shutoff mechanism.

"So if it gets knocked over, it'll automatically cut off," Kuhlmann said.

Any space heater using fuel should have the proper fuel.

Carbon monoxide detectors are a must because fueled heaters often use an open flame, Kuhlmann said.

Space heaters aren't the only culprit in the large number of home heating fires Kuhlmann's department responds to through the winter months, but regular maintenance and cleaning can help stifle fire hazards before they spark up.

HVAC systems should be inspected annually by a certified technician to prevent the buildup of dust and other flammable materials. Carbon monoxide poisoning is a big concern with gas furnaces, which use an open flame, Kuhlmann said.

"We've had a lot of heat calls with this cold snap," said Angela Milligan, a representative of A. Connell's Heating and Air in Martinez. Milligan said that although customers are urged to have their HVAC systems serviced and cleaned in the fall, his company's staff has been busy lately with repairs.

Kuhlmann said fireplaces also need to be inspected every year by a certified chimney sweep to detect hazards, such as a buildup of creosote. The chemical substance collects when wood burns and can cause a chimney fire if not removed.

"(Fire) wood needs to be seasoned wood," Kuhlmann said, adding that burning pine and moist "green" wood adds to creosote buildup.

The recent cold temperatures don't have just service people busy, but retailers, too. Shane Pangle, the manager of Ace Hardware, said the cold has sent many customers into the Evans store for heating supplies and equipment.

"Space heaters have been one of the biggest things, and propane," Pangle said. "And a lot of propane and kerosene. We've seen a big increase in folks coming in for that."

Residents also need to make sure they have is a smoke detector, Kuhlmann said.

"Please, lots of smoke detectors," Kuhlmann said. "One in every room except the kitchen and the bathroom. They are cheap (and) readily accessible."

Residents who cannot afford a smoke detector should call the fire department at (706) 863-7745 to get one for free.



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