Keep your Home Safe From Fires this Winter!

fire damage minneapolisThe high cost of home heating fuels and utilities has caused many Americans to search for alternate sources of home heating. The use of wood burning stoves is growing and space heaters are selling rapidly, or coming out of storage. Fireplaces are burning wood and manmade logs.

All these methods of heating may be acceptable. They are however, a major contributing factor in residential fires for Minnesotans. Many of these fires can be prevented. The following fire safety tips can help you maintain a fire safe home this winter.

KEROSENE HEATERS

  • Be sure your heater is in good working condition. Inspect exhaust parts for carbon buildup. Be sure that heater has an emergency shut off in case the heater is tipped over.
  • Never use fuel burning appliances without proper room venting. Burning fuel (coal, kerosene or propane for example) can produce deadly fumes.
  • Use ONLY the fuel recommended by the heater manufacturer. NEVER introduce a fuel into a unit not designed for that type of fuel.
  • Keep kerosene or other flammable liquids stored in approved metal containers in well-ventilated storage areas outside of the house.
  • NEVER fill the heater while it is operating or hot. When refueling an oil or kerosene unit, avoid overfilling. DO NOT use cold fuel for it may expand in the tank as it warms up.
  • Refueling should be done outside of the home (outdoors).
  • Keep young children away from space heaters – Especially when they are wearing nightgowns or other loose clothing that can be easily ignited.
  • When using a fuel burning appliance in the bedroom, be sure there is proper ventilation to prevent a buildup of carbon monoxide.

WOOD STOVES AND FIREPLACES

Wood stoves and fireplaces are becoming a very common heat source in homes.  Careful attention to safety can minimize a fire hazard.

To use them safely:

  • Be sure the fireplace or stove is installed properly. Wood stoves should have adequate clearance (36”) from combustible surfaces, and proper floor support and protection.
  • Woodstoves should be of good quality, solid construction and design, and should be UL listed.
  • Have the chimney inspected annually and cleaned if necessary, especially if it has not been used for some time.
  • Do not use flammable liquids to start or accelerate any fire.
  • Keep a glass or metal screen in front of the fireplace opening to prevent embers or sparks from jumping out or unwanted material from going in. A screen will also help prevent the possibility of burns to family, friends or even pets enjoying the fire.
  • A wood stove should be burned hot twice a day for 15 to 30 minutes to reduce the amount of creosote buildup that can lead to a chimney fire.
  • Don’t use excessive amounts of paper to build roaring fires in fireplaces. It is possible to ignite creosote in the chimney by overbuilding the fire.
  • Never burn charcoal indoors. Burning charcoal can give off lethal amounts of carbon monoxide.
  • Keep flammable materials away from your fireplace mantel. A spark from the fireplace could easily ignite east materials.
  • Before you go to sleep, be sure your fireplace fire is out. NEVER close your damper with hot ashes in the fireplace. A closed damper will help the fire to heat up again and will force toxic carbon monoxide into the house.
  • If synthetic logs are used, follow the directions on the package. Never break a synthetic log apart to quicken the fire or use more than one log at a time. They often burn unevenly releasing higher levels of carbon monoxide.

FURNACE HEATING

It’s important that you have your furnace inspected regularly to ensure that it is in good working condition.

  • Be sure all furnace controls and emergency shutoffs are in proper working condition.
  • Leave the furnace repair is to qualified specialist. Do not attempt repairs yourself unless you’re qualified.
  • Inspect the walls and ceiling near the furnace and along the chimney line. If the wall is hot or discolored, additional pipe insulation or clearance maybe required.
  • Check the flue pipe and pipe seams. Are they well supported, free of holes, and cracks? Soot along around or around seams may be an indicator of a leak.
  • Is the chimney solid, with cracks or loose bricks? All unused flue openings should be sealed with solid masonry.
  • Keep trash and other combustible away from the heating system.

OTHER FIRE SAFETY TIPS

  • Never discard hot ashes inside or near the home. Place in a metal container outside and well away from the house.
  • Never use a range or an oven as a supplemental heating device. Not only is it a safety hazard, it can be a source of potentially toxic fumes.
  • If you use an electric heater, be sure not to overload the circuit. Only use extension cords that have the necessary rating to carry the amp load. TIP: Choose an extension cord the same size or larger than the appliance electrical cord.
  • Avoid using electrical space heaters in bathrooms, or other areas where they may come in contact with water.
  • Frozen water pipes? Never try to thaw them with a blowtorch or other open flame, otherwise the pipe can conduct the heat and ignite the wall structure inside the wall space. Use hot water or a UL labeled device such as a handheld dryer for thawing.
  • If the windows are used as emergency exits in your home, practice using them in the event fire should strike. Be sure that all the windows open easily. Home escape ladders are recommended.
  • If there is a fire hydrant near home you can assist the fire department by keeping the hydrant clear of snow so in the event it is needed, it can be easily located.

FINALLY…

  • Be sure every level of your home has a working smoke alarm, and be sure to check and clean it on a monthly basis.
  • Plan and practice a home escape plan with your family.
  • NEVER use your oven to heat your home or anything else that is not intended for that purpose.

For more information on home fire safety, check out some of our other blogs, or you can always contact your local fire department.

Quick Links

Minneapolis Fire Department

St. Paul Fire Department

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