How to prevent house fires, before you light your fireplace

National

(Photo courtesy: Virginia State Parks / CC BY 2.0 via mgn online)

(WFXR) — The colder months are moving in and people will be dusting off the cobwebs on their fireplaces and pulling out the space heaters.

While these devices help to provide warmth, they can also lead to house fires, fire injuries, and fire-related deaths.

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According to the National Safety Council (NSC), heating is the second leading cause of house fires. The American Red Cross released several tips to help keep people safe as they start firing up the fireplaces during the colder months.

  • You want to keep all flammables such as paper, clothing, bedding, drapers or rugs at least three feet from space heaters, stoves or fireplaces.
  • Do not leave portable heaters or fireplaces unattended. Make sure to turn off heaters and make sure fireplace embers are extinguished before walking away.
  • If you are using a space heater: place it on a level surface that is nonflammable such as ceramic tile
  • If you are buying a space heater, look for one that automatically shuts off if it falls and keep it away from children and pets.

Here are some helpful reminders before you light your fireplace, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP):

  • When lighting your fireplace, try to crack a window open while the fire is burning.
  • Make sure the damper or flue is open before starting a fire.
  • Do not close damper until the embers have completely stopped burning.
  • The type of wood makes a difference: use dry and well-aged wood, not wet or green wood because it causes more smoke and contributes to soot buildup in the chimney.
  • Placing smaller pieces of wood on a grate will burn faster and produce less smoke.
  • Make sure to clean out ashes from previous fires. You want to keep an inch or less of ash, a thicker layer restricts the air supply to logs, resulting in more smoke.
  • Have a professional check your chimney yearly.
  • Check for animal nests or other blockages taht could prevent smoke from escaping.
  • Install safety screens to help reduce the risk of burns from the hot glass front of some fireplaces, including gas fireplaces.
  • Place fireplace tools and accessories out of reach of children and remove any lighters and matches.
  • Make sure you have a fire extinguisher on hand.

If a fire does spark, using a fire extinguisher can help, but they do not work on every fire. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), they recommend having a multi-purpose device large enough to put out a small fire, but not heavy that it will be difficult to handle. The NFPA also says to make sure the fire extinguisher has the label of an independent testing laboratory.

When using a fire extinguisher remember the acronym: PASS. Pull the pin, Aim low at the base of the fire, Squeeze the handle slowly, and Sweep the nozzle side to side.

The NSC also states that it is important to have a home escape plan.

  • Plan two ways to escape from each room
  • Make sure all doors and windows that lead to outside open easily
  • Make sure to identify secondary routes: a window that leads to an adjacent roof or a collapsible ladder from a second floor window
  • Always use the stairs and never the elevator in a multi-story building
  • Have an outside meeting place that is a safe distance from the house

The NFPA recommends practicing your escape plan at least twice a year, during the day and at night. According to the NFPA, 71 percent of Americans have a home fire escape plan but only 47 percent have practiced it. The NFPA suggests these best practices:

  • Practice your escape plan with your eyes closed, crawling low to the floor and keeping your mouth covered
  • Practice closing doors behind you
  • Practice “stop, drop and roll”
  • Practice testing door handles to check if they are hot before opening
  • Teach children not to hide, but instead how to escape on their own

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