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Take Precautions with Heating Equipment

Combustibles near space heaters and creosote in chimneys top the list of house fire causes.

It should come as no surprise that heating equipment, which includes fireplaces, fixed space heaters, water heaters or portable space heaters, is the leading cause of home fires during the winter months of December through February, and trails only cooking equipment as the leading cause throughout the entire year.

Where portable space heaters were involved, the leading cause was combustibles too close to the appliance. The leading cause of fireplace or wood stove fires was a build up of creosote (a tar-like build up in the chimney). If you have a natural burning fireplace and haven’t had your chimney cleaned recently, now is the time to have a reputable and qualified contractor provide the service it needs. Creosote is the cause of over 14,000 home heating fires each year according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

With high fuel costs, we are likely to see an increase in the use of wood stoves and portable heaters. Fire Service experts are predicting that we will see a shift in homeowners using other means to heat their home other than a central furnace. This means an increase in home fires involving heating equipment, and quite possibly an increase in fire fatalities.

Here are a few safety tips:

  • Keep a clear distance of at least three feet around any heating source.
  • Never leave space heaters or fireplaces in use unattended. Turn off space heaters, and make sure all embers in a fireplace are extinguished before leaving the home or going to sleep. If you must use a space heater, be sure it’s on a flat, firm surface (not carpet or near combustible materials) and keep kids and pets away while it’s in use. Also buy one that shuts off automatically if it overheats or tips over.
  • NEVER use your stove or oven as a heating method.
  • Use only seasoned hardwood when burning wood in a natural fireplace. Green or recently cut wood will not burn cleanly and will create a creosote build up in your chimney. Do not burn trash, construction materials (2 x 4’s, plywood, etc.) or any other items not intended to be used in a fireplace.
  • Have some protection in front of your fireplace. Either a glass door or screen will help stop embers from jumping out of the fireplace.
  • ALWAYS have an escape plan for your family and practice it so that everyone knows what to do and where to meet in the event of a fire.
  • Be sure there are working smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors in your home. 

As always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact the for any fire or safety advice. Be safe and enjoy the winter months! 

Lieutenant Denny Hughes is a fire and safety educator, and a 30-year veteran of the Farmington Hills Fire Department. Feel free to contact him at 248-871-2823 or DHughes@fhgov.com. 

Sources: National Fire Protection Association and American Red Cross 

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