Fire up your furnace, not your home

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Firing up that gas heater or furnace may burn a few more dollars in your pocketbook this winter, but be sure a warm house doesn't cost you something else more precious - like your life.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, winter fires cause $3 billion in property loss, nearly 4,000 deaths and almost 25,000 injuries nationally. Nearly 40 percent of residential fire-related injuries occur between the beginning of November and the end of February.

Greenville Fire Chief Mike Phillips said the city's fire department has already seen an increase in emergency calls since the first cold snap blew through the state two weeks ago.

&#8220Heating is the biggest cause,” he said. &#8220We're not seeing as much chimney fires as we used to. Those are down a lot. But one of the biggest problems is electric space heaters.”

Phillips said while the majority of households have moved away from using fireplaces as a primary source of heat, many take for granted the convenience of movable electric heaters.

&#8220Lots of people hook them up to extension cords and run those under rugs and around furniture,” said Phillips, who said setting electrical heaters near combustible materials is a recipe for disaster.

&#8220A lot of it is just using good common sense,” said Phillips.

In addition, Phillips said improperly installed wood burning heaters are another problem. He said many homeowners try to install the heaters themselves instead of relying on professionals.

Also, people tend to take safety in their homes for granted. Especially with heating appliances they've used for years.

&#8220For gas heaters, I'd advise people to get qualified personnel to come in to their homes and check those out before lighting them,” said Phillips.

Phillips also cautioned people on the hazards of outdoor burning. He said before the Alabama Forestry Commission rescinded a fire alert last week for the majority of northern Alabama, Butler County was close to being placed under that same alert. But recent rain showers have saturated the ground enough to cancel the fire alert.

Still, Phillips warns to err on the side of safety when burning leaves or limbs outside.

&#8220When the grass has turned brown and is dry, it doesn't take much to get it going,” he said.

Some winter fire lifesaving tips from the U.S. Fire Administration includes:

Making sure your space heaters have an emergency shut off in case they tip over. ONLY use the fuel recommended by the manufacturer.

Never refilling a space heater while it is operating or still hot. Refuel outside, away from the house.

Making sure wood stoves are properly installed, away from combustible surfaces, have the proper floor support and adequate ventilation.

Never using flammable liquids (such as gasoline) to start or accelerate fire.

Having your furnace and chimney professionally inspected annually and cleaned if necessary. Chimney tar build-up is a common cause of chimney fires.

Using a glass or metal screen in front of your fireplace to prevent sparks from igniting nearby carpets or furniture.

Never thawing frozen pipes with a blowtorch or other open flame. Use hot water or a UL listed device such as a hand held dryer.

Disposing of hot ashes in metal containers placed away from the house.

Not using the oven to heat your home. In addition to being a fire hazard, it can be a source of toxic fumes.

Keeping a fire hydrant near your home clear of snow for easy access.

Installing a smoke alarm on every level of your home. Test the batteries every month and change them at least once a year.