Winter is the peak season for U.S. home fires, a fact demonstrated by the devastating blaze that left a Great Bend man homeless earlier this week.
“The colder months and holiday season bring a set of increased fire risks that can quickly turn a festive, wintry time of year into a tragic one,” said Great Bend Fire Chief Mike Napolitano. “Our goal is to inform the public about winter fire safety and provide educational resources for the fire service. With some increased awareness and basic safety precautions, people can ensure a fire-safe winter for their families and homes.”
Cooking and heating are the leading causes. In addition, candle, decoration, and Christmas tree fires peak in December.
According to National Fire Protection Association statistics, cooking is the leading cause of home structure fires and injuries in the U.S., while heating equipment is the second leading cause of home fires and home fire deaths. These and other facts that underscore fire risks associated with the winter and holiday season.
In 2011, heating equipment was involved in an estimated 53,600 reported U.S. home structure fires, with associated losses of 400 civilian deaths, 1,520 civilian injuries, and $893 million in direct property damage. These fires accounted for 14 percent of all reported home fires.
Based on 2007-2011 annual averages:
• Space heaters, whether portable or stationary, accounted for one-third (33 percent) of home heating fires and four out of five (81 percent) of home heating fire deaths.
• The leading factor contributing to home heating fires (28 percent) was failure to clean, principally creosote from solid-fueled heating equipment, primarily chimneys.
• Placing things that can burn too close to heating equipment or placing heating equipment too close to things that can burn, such as upholstered furniture, clothing, mattress, or bedding, was the leading factor contributing to ignition in fatal home heating fires and accounted for more than half (53 percent) of home heating fire deaths.
• Half of all home heating fires occurred in December, January and February.
“Recent fires during this holiday season are tragic reminders that we are at the time of year when home fires peak,” Napolitano said. “Taking simple steps to prevent fires and making sure you have working smoke alarms can save lives.”
Great Bend City Inspector Lee Schneider suggested ten things one can do this winter to stay safe from fire:
• All heaters need space. Keep anything that can burn at least three feet away from heating equipment, like the furnace, fireplace, wood stove, or portable space heater.
• Have a three-foot “kid-free zone” around open fires and space heaters.
• Never use your oven to heat your home.
• Have a qualified professional install stationary space heating equipment, water heaters or central heating equipment according to the local codes and manufacturer’s instructions.
• Have heating equipment and chimneys cleaned and inspected every year by a qualified professional.
• Remember to turn portable heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed.
• Always use the right kind of fuel, specified by the manufacturer, for fuel-burning space heaters.
• Make sure the fireplace has a sturdy screen to stop sparks from flying into the room. Ashes should be cool before putting them in a metal container with a lid. Keep the container a safe distance away from your home.
• Make sure you have working smoke alarms on every level of your home, inside each bedroom and outside each sleeping area.
• Develop and practice a home escape plan that includes two ways out of each room and an outside meeting place.
Napolitano also urges people to follow manufacturer’s recommendations when using any appliance.