Colder and shorter days don’t only mean it’s time to prepare for the much-anticipated holidays, it also means it’s time to use extra caution to prevent home heating-related fires.
Fire officials said the likelihood of fires caused by space heaters, fireplaces and gas heating elements increase significantly during the winter months, simply because they are used more often.
One of the most basic things residents can do to prevent a fire is to make sure their chimneys are in working order, Interim Fire Chief and Fire Marshal Mark Joyner said.
Have chimneys inspected by someone certified to do the job, he said. This is especially true in the case of a new home when the owners don’t know the history of the chimney and what attention it needs, Joyner added.
The burning of fossil fuels, such as wood, create creosote, a by-product of the burning.
If allowed to build up in the chimney, the creosote itself can ignite and cause an unwanted fire, Joyner said.
“You’re inside all warm and cozy and there’s a fire coming out of the top of your chimney and you don’t even know it,” he said. “And your neighbors see that, and call it in as a structure fire, when really just the chimney is on fire.”
A chimney fire can very well become a structure fire, Joyner added. If there are any cracks in a chimney surrounded by wood, the fire could spread.
Older homes not built with chimney caps should have them install to keep animals, leaves and other debris out. Tree branches and limbs should be clipped so that they are at least 15 feet away from the top of a chimney.
“We’ve had some calls about tree fires,” Joyner said. “A tree has been too close and the heat from the chimney has caused a fire.”
Always use the correct fuel for fire. Don’t use treated wood or attempt to burn a Christmas tree in a fireplace.
Wood selected for burning should be well seasoned, split for at least six months and stored in an elevated shielded location. Use commercial firelighters to start the fire, but never flammable liquids.
Caution should be exercised when using space heaters. Never add fuel to a kerosene heater while it’s hot or on, Joyner said. Keep all heating devices at least three feet away from anything flammable.
If you have a really old heating appliance, you should probably think about throwing it away and buying a new one that’s has emergency shut off features, Joyner said.
“If you have an electric heater that’s 20 years old—go buy a new one,” he said “You would probably save so much money in efficiency.”
It is best to by goods with the UL or Underwriters Laboratories label; this means it has been tested and is safe for consumers, Joyner said.
Many Northern Virginia residents own gas generators, so they can power their homes in the event a winter storm causes power outages, the fire marshal said.
Never use a generator indoors. He strongly recommends not even using a generator in a garage, Joyner said.
“If you live in a stacked townhome, like in Manassas Park Station, there is someone living above your garage,” he said.
The fumes from the generator and the carbon monoxide could rise into a dwelling and injure someone inside, he added.
Additionally, all homes should be fitted with working carbon monoxide and smoke detectors.
The detectors sounded and the family was able to get out safely, Joyner said. It’s a good idea to get in the habit of changing smoke and carbon monoxide detector batteries when the time changes in the spring and the fall, he added.