As winter weather chills the area, residents are cranking up the heat and decorating their homes for the holidays.
Fire officials said a little maintenance and prevention can help keep the holiday season joyous by dousing hazards before they spark up.
In 2008, home heating equipment, primarily space heaters and fireplaces, caused an estimated 66,100 fires, 480 deaths, 1,660 injuries and $1.1 billion in direct property damage across the country, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
Fire officials expect to respond to many more structure fires during the winter months, said Danny Kuhlmann, Martinez-Columbia Fire Rescue Special Operations chief.
The best lifesaving step homeowners can take is to install smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors in their homes.
"That's the best insurance policy anybody can have," Kuhlmann said.
"And (they should have) a carbon monoxide detector if they have any type of gas appliance in the house. Smoke detectors should be in every room of the house except the kitchen and bathrooms."
Home heaters, especially gas heaters, should be checked and maintained by a qualified technician annually to ensure efficient operation and to prevent excess production of carbon monoxide, Kuhlmann said.
Fireplaces also need to be inspected annually to clear out creosote build-up and to check for cracks in the flue lining and fire box.
"If there are any cracks in there, (fire) could get into the framing of the structure itself," Kuhlmann said.
"I've been to a lot of fires like that."
All electric heaters should be UL (Underwriters Laboratories) approved and have an emergency shut-off mechanism.
But the keyword to safe space heater operation is "space," Kuhlmann said.
"A minimum of 3 feet in all directions," Kuhlmann said, adding that they should be placed far away from anything flammable, including furniture, drapes and walls.
The Christmas holidays also bring their own set of fire hazards in the form of decorations.
From 2003 to 2007, Christmas trees caused about 250 structure fires resulting in 14 deaths, 26 injuries and $13.8 million in direct property damage, according to the association.
Electrical problems were factors in nearly half of those fires.
Kuhlmann said watering a natural tree daily keeps it from drying out.
It is important to place it away from fireplaces, heating vents and other heat sources.
"All electrical lighting should be UL-approved" and used for its intended purpose, Kuhlmann said.
Lights, including electric candles, should be unplugged before bed and anytime residents leave the home.
Electric candles are a good alternative to traditional flame candles, which can easily be knocked over by children and pets, Kuhlmann said.
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