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Earth Sense: Keep mindful of fires, keep extinguisher close
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Single homes in Hall County often come with a built-in garage and a “bonus room” on top of it. If you’re thinking about making it the children’s bedroom, trouble may lurk.

A car parked in the garage below might have 15 gallons of gasoline in the tank. Often, there’s motor oil, carburetor cleaner and similar flammable liquids stored in the garage. Fire spreads upward.

So if some unlucky circumstance like a spark from the car battery or a short circuit in the house wiring starts a fire, the children upstairs in the bonus room are in grave danger. Where a house is on a slope and allows basement access, a “boat room” is sometimes present.

But a fire in the basement will spread upward into the living areas with incredible speed. Once I realized this myself, the built-in garage got converted to a multipurpose room, and a free-standing garage now houses the cars and flammables.

With gasoline banned from inside the house structure, attention turns to how to put out a fire if the worst should happen. Grease fires in the kitchen, for example, are much more common than one may think. For this kind of emergency, having a fire extinguisher in the kitchen is a must. Extinguishers aren’t expensive. House fires are.

A multipurpose ABC extinguisher can be used on different types of fires. “A” stands for paper fires, like the document one wanted to burn in the ashtray but it got away and now the tissue box on the table is in flames. “B” is for flammable liquids like the cooking oil that caught fire on the stove.

But faulty house wiring, or too many appliances plugged into the same outlet, can also cause a fire. This is where the “C” rating comes in, for putting out electrical blazes.

Never try to put out a grease or oil fire with water. Oil is lighter than water. So the water that one might think would put out the fire will sink to the bottom. There, it evaporates instantly, and kicks a huge fireball up into the air. This is a good way to make the ceiling go up in flames.

For some impressive demonstration videos, search Youtube for “grease fire water.” If your home doesn’t have an extinguisher, spend $30 on the next shopping trip and be safe.

Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor of physical science and director of sustainability at Brenau University. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.

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