Keep fires in their place this season

Posted: Wednesday, October 13, 2004

With winter at the door, the home heating season has begun, and it's time to take a careful look at furnaces, wood stoves and space heaters to ensure they're in good operating condition and to prevent any mishaps due to fire.

People should inspect wood-burning stoves for any creosote buildup, according to Central Emergency Services Fire Marshal Gary Hale.

He said fire departments on the Kenai Peninsula, including CES, Kenai and Nikiski offer free loans of chimney cleaning brushes and extension rods for use by residents who do find creosote.

An extensive buildup can cause chimney fires that may result in a serious structure fire.

Furnaces are another source of potential fire danger.

One recommendation Hale makes is to have filters replaced often in forced-air furnaces. He also recommends having furnaces inspected by a qualified service person at the beginning of the heating season.

To avoid a catastrophic house fire, smoke detectors are a must, according to the fire marshal.

"Smoke detectors should be outside every sleeping area and there should be a detector on each level of the home," Hale said.

He also said the smoke detectors should be inspected monthly to be sure they're in working order, and batteries should be changed twice a year.

Space heaters are another area of concern for the fire marshal.

"They're in use up here a lot, where people have add-ons and cabins with insufficient heat. There's a saying: Space heaters need space," he said.

"There should be no combustible materials within three feet of the front of the heater and 18 to 36 inches from the sides and rear," he said.

Midway through the heating season comes Christmas, when many families decorate with fresh, green Christmas trees in the home.

Hale cautions people to be sure the trees have plenty of water, and that any lights used to decorate the tree should be carefully inspected for frayed wires or broken bulbs.

"As cheap as lights have become, if there's any doubt, replace the set," Hale said.

If using a fresh, green tree, the firefighter also strongly advises against the use of lit candles in the decorating motif.

In the event of a fire in the home, Hale said families should have an escape plan in place.

"You should have two ways out of each room," he said. "If the second exit is a window, make sure to periodically check that the windows are opening properly."

Hale also suggests having plenty of multipurpose fire extinguishers handy just in case.

He said the A-B-C type extinguisher is effective on all types of fires in the home. He recommends a 2 1/2 pound size for the garage and kitchen areas of the home and said the extinguisher should be mounted where it is easily accessible if needed.

"It's good to have at least one on every level of the home," he said.

Fire danger increases during the home-heating season, but with a bit of preparation, a catastrophe can be avoided.

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