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Fire official concerned with fire increase
Fire services urges caution when heating homes in winter
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Fire Prevention Tips

Fireplace and Wood Stove Safety

  • Use only seasoned hardwood. Soft, moist wood accelerates creosote buildup.
  • Build small fires that burn completely and produce less smoke.
  • Never burn cardboard boxes, trash or debris in a fireplace or wood stove.
  • Never use flammable liquids to start a fire.
  • Never leave a fire in the fireplace unattended. Extinguish the fire before going to bed or leaving the house.
  • Soak hot ashes in water and place them in a metal container outside the home.

Space Heater Safety

  • Space heaters need space. Keep items at least three feet away from each heater - in front, behind, above and below.
  • When buying a space heater, only buy one with a safety feature that automatically shuts off the power if the heater falls over, and that has been evaluated by a testing laboratory.
  • Space heaters require a large amount of electricity. When using a space heater, do not plug anything else into the same outlet.
  • Never leave space heaters unattended. Turn them off and unplug them when leaving the home or when going to bed at night.

Carbon Monoxide Safety

  • Never use your range or oven to help heat your home and never use a charcoal grill or hibachi in a home or garage.
  • Never keep a car running in a garage. Even if the garage doors are open, normal circulation will not provide enough fresh air to reliably prevent a dangerous buildup of carbon monoxide.
  • Install at least one carbon monoxide alarm with an audible warning signal near the sleeping areas and outside individual bedrooms.

Source: Hall County Fire Services

Hall County Fire Services has had a busy couple of weeks with an increase in residential fires as colder temperatures crept in.

In the past two weeks fire crews responded to 12 residential fires and of those, eight were related to home heating issues, said Fire Marshal Scott Cagle.

During the winter months of December, January and February, home heating is the No. 1 cause of residential fires in the South, he said.

Residents often take unsafe measures to stay warm during those months including attempting to keep pipes from freezing, using fireplaces that are in need of repair or inspection or using space heaters too close to combustible material.

Each of those unsafe heating techniques has resulted in fires during those two weeks, Cagle said.

"In one situation, there was a cardboard box sitting atop the wood-burning stove," he said. "The residents did not notice it until it was too late."

The home's occupants also did not call for emergency assistance in time. Instead, they attempted to put out the blaze themselves and wound up suffering from smoke inhalation, Cagle said.

"They were lucky," he added.

Perhaps a reason for the increase is due to the elimination of federal funding for utility bill assistance to low-income families.

Ninth District Opportunity Inc. ceased the heating assistance program on Dec. 1, 2011, due to what was believed to be a lack of funds to continue operating the program.

That program, though, will resume later this month due to a higher-than-anticipated funding allocation, the nonprofit announced last week.

But Cagle said economic woes are not the only problem leading to the increase in fires; carelessness is also a contributing factor.

Therefore, Cagle said, residents need to take increased precautions while remaining smart.

"Many times, people just don't understand the risk involved in using alternative heating methods," he said. "They are just trying to keep costs down and stay warm, and sometimes those things just don't add up."

Another issue fire officials are concerned with is carbon monoxide.

Cagle said residents need to check their smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors or have them installed.

Carbon monoxide can come as a surprise because it is an odorless and colorless toxic gas. Sources of the gas can be gas-fired appliances, charcoal grills, wood-burning furnaces or fireplaces and vehicles.

Although carbon monoxide is hard to detect, various symptoms can be a sign of carbon monoxide poisoning. Those include dizziness, headaches, disorientation, nausea and fatigue.

"This is a good time to check the operation of your smoke alarms, and design and practice your home escape plan," Cagle said.