Preparing for Winter
Daylight saving time has kicked in and it reminds us that winter is around the corner. We all should be preparing for winter to reduce the effects of snow and colder weather as it relates to fire safety. Here are some suggestions to avoid costly repairs and the threat of fire and/or injury:
Service and clean your heating appliances. -Oil furnaces require routine maintenance to burn clean and replace worn parts. Furnace malfunctions can not only leave you without heat and frozen pipes, but also cause Carbon Monoxide levels to rise and possible smoke damage when severe. -Wood stoves need clean chimney flues to operate efficiently and avoid the buildup of Carbon Monoxide in the home. Fires in chimneys clogged with creosote can catch fire and burn like blow torches. Fire in flues may spread to structural components in the house. Check your smoke detectors and CO detectors regularly to make sure they work.
Clean leaves out of roof gutters. Freezing and thawing of snow on roofs can form dangerous backups of solid ice on roofs if they cannot drain. The leaves can be manually cleaned out or prevented by many gutter accessories on the market. When replacing old roof shingles, have the contractor install “ice dams” that lay under the shingles and prevent leakage thru the shingles when ice builds up. Snow rakes are also available for manually removing snow 2′-3′ off the edges of roof after a snow fall to prevent ice buildup as well. Water leakage thru the roof is not only costly, but develops into a fire hazard when it gets into electric running thru walls and ceilings.
Auxiliary heaters must be kept 3′ from combustibles. The most common winter related fires are caused by heat too close to combustibles. This includes furniture, curtains, bedding, etc.. Ensure your heater is UL Listed for safety and will shut off if tipped over. Plug these heaters into circuits rated for their use. For instance a 5000BTU or 1500Watt heater will draw about 10 amps. Most homes have 15 or 20 amp wall circuits. Plugging two heaters in will overload the circuit and may cause a fire. If you lights flicker when something is in use have an electrician check your home wiring.
Check snow removal equipment and have it ready. Start snow blowers and make sure they are operable. Keep fuel in a safe location outside of home or fire safe cabinet. Keep shovels and ice melt where they can be accessed. Keeping driveways and walkways clear as soon as possible after a storm is important in case of a fire or medical emergency so crews can get to you and your home. Clear around hydrants that are located on your property to aid the fire department response in your area.
Candle with care. Winter holidays are coming and more people are using candles for religious celebration and comforting ambiance. It is extremely important to keep candles from starting a fire and ruining your holidays! Just like portable heaters, they should be away from combustibles and only burnt while someone is in the room. Once the candle burns down, the wax should be contained in some sort of a non-combustible object that will not crack and break when heated. An alternative for holiday candles are battery operated lights. Holiday items such as live Christmas trees should be kept watered and removed from the home if they become brittle and dry out. A Christmas tree fire burns extremely rapid and becomes deadly in any residence within minutes.
Watch what you cook! The number one all-time cause of fires in the home remains to be unattended cooking. Cooking is more prevalent in the home during winter since people don’t go out as much and the holidays bring together family gatherings. If you are cooking something on the stove-top, it’s important to keep an eye on it to prevent the food from burning and catching fire. Stove-top fires spread to curtains, cabinets and anything close that can ignite. Smoke from burnt food also does soot damage to rooms. Ovens are designed to keep heat in, but burnt food will produce large amounts of smoke in the home. Microwaves can catch fire if the wrong items are left inside and accidentally heated up. Have a top ready to cover and extinguish frying pans or pots that catch fire. Never pick up a burning pan and run with it! Don’t use water on a grease or oil fire as it will create a steam explosion and spread the fire. Turkey fryers that utilize propane heated oil are not recommended by the NFPA due to not being safe. They should never be used indoors and only be used outdoors by trained people that understand the dangers associated with them. Commercial electric oil-fryers are available and now considered safe indoors if UL Listed and follow manufacturers instructions.
We wish everyone a safe winter and hope these tips will help avoid problems that may creep up if unattended. Thanks for your support and preparing for possible disasters. Remember that preparedness and quick recovery begins with you.