Even in the South, the winter months bring about many changes in your home. The heating system kicks on, you may use your fireplace or log-burning stove, and you prepare for the holidays by decorating and cooking holiday feasts. But did you know the winter holiday season is also the number 1 fire season and heating equipment is a leading cause of home fire deaths?
Winter Fire Statistics
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, more than 150 Americans will die each year from accidental, non-fire related CO poisoning associated with consumer products. These products include faulty, improperly-used, or incorrectly-vented fuel-burning appliances such as furnaces, stoves, water heaters, and fireplaces. You can greatly reduce your chances of becoming a fire or CO casualty by being able to identify potential hazards and following the Charleston Fire Department's safety tips.
- The winter holidays are time for celebration, and that means more cooking, home decorating, entertaining, and an increased risk of fire due to heating equipment.
- U.S. fire departments respond to an estimated annual average of 3,840 structure fires in dormitories, fraternities, sororities, and barracks. These fires caused an annual average of three civilian deaths, 38 civilian fire injuries, and $20.9 million in direct property damage. Fires in these properties account for 0.7% of all reported structure fires.
- Two of every five reported home fires start in the kitchen - more than any other place in the home.
- Half of all home heating fires occurred in December, January, and February.
More than one-third of home fires occur during the months of December, January, and February. Most fires and injuries are preventable by taking precautions that can make the difference between a happy and safe holiday versus a holiday tragedy.
Winter Fires Can Be Prevented
The following electrical fire safety tips can help you maintain a fire-safe home this winter season.
- Routinely check your electrical appliances and wiring.
- Frayed wires can cause fires. Replace all worn, old or damaged appliance cords immediately.
- Replace any electrical tool if it causes even small electrical shocks, overheats, shorts out, or gives off smoke or sparks.
- Keep electrical appliances away from wet floors and counters; pay special care to electrical appliances in the bathroom and kitchen.
- Buy electrical products evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory, like UL.
- Keep clothes, curtains, and other potentially combustible items at least three feet from all heaters.
- If an appliance has a three-prong plug, use it only in a three-slot outlet. Never force it to fit into a two-slot outlet or extension cord.
- Don't allow children to play with or around electrical appliances like space heaters, irons, and hair dryers.
- Use safety closures to "child-proof" electrical outlets.
- Use electrical extension cords wisely; never overload extension cords or wall sockets.
- Immediately shut off, then professionally replace, light switches that are hot to the touch and lights that flicker.
Safely Heat Your Home
- Have a qualified technician install all new equipment.
- Have a qualified professional inspect your equipment annually. The inspection will ensure that the system is maintained in proper working order and identify any parts that require repair or replacement.
- Schedule regular cleaning of your boiler, furnace and hot water heater, including the chimney and chimney connectors.
- Have your wood-burning stove or fireplace, including the chimney and connectors, inspected every year by a professional.
- Keep a glass or metal screen in front of fireplace openings to prevent embers or sparks from jumping out.
Before Going to Sleep, Be Sure Your Fireplace Fire Is out
Electric Space Heaters - When purchasing an electric space heater, look for heaters with automatic shut-off features. Give space heaters space. Heaters should be placed at least three feet from any combustible material, such as bedding and furniture.
- Never use an extension cord with a space heater.
- Inspect the electrical cord for damage before each use.
- Keep young children and pets away from space heaters.
- Only use equipment that has the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) Mark.
- Avoid using electric space heaters in bathrooms or other areas where they may come in contact with water.
- Turn off/unplug the space heater whenever you leave the room or go to sleep.
Never use the kitchen oven or gas range to heat your home or apartment. Such improper use could cause dangerous levels of carbon monoxide to accumulate, causing severe illness and possible death.
With the rising costs of heating energy, you may choose to use an electric blanket to help keep you warm on a cold winter's night. However, misused or damaged blankets can easily become an ignition source for a fire.
For a safe night's sleep, follow these recommendations for using electric blankets:
- Use only electric blankets that have the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) Mark.
- Replace all electric blankets that are more than 10 years old. (99% of blanket fires have been caused by blankets 10 years or older.)
- Purchase blankets with an automatic safety shut-off. (The device will shut off the blanket if the temperature gets too high.)
- Always buy new electric blankets; second-hand blankets may not be safe.
- Replace any electric blanket that has broken or frayed cords or scorch marks.
- Avoid tucking the electric blanket in at the sides of the bed.
- Avoid placing other blankets or comforters on top of an electric blanket while in use.
- Warm the bed with your electric blanket and turn it off before going to bed.
Electric blankets also present a burn risk to those who cannot feel heat or are unable to react appropriately. Therefore, never place an electric blanket on babies, small children or those with physical limitations that may prevent them from turning the control off or removing the blanket from their body.