As temperatures begin to drop and consumers turn to alternative heating sources to stay warm, the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) offers guidance on ways to avoid home fires this fall and winter during National Fire Prevention Month.
"While space heaters, fire places and wood-burning stoves can help consumers reduce energy bills during the colder months, it is critical that they be used properly," said Julie Rochman, IBHS president and CEO.
Heating fires account for 36 percent of all residential home fires in rural areas every year, according to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA). The majority of residential heating fires (87 percent) are started by a confined fire, such as from a chimney or fuel burner, according to USFA.
In 2011, 68 people in Michigan died in home fires and fire departments throughout the state responded to 15,578 home fires, according to the National Fire Incident Reporting System. Home is where people are at greatest risk from fire with more than 75 percent of all fire fatalities occurring in home fires. Cooking equipment, heating and electrical equipment, smoking materials, and lit candles are among the leading causes of all reported home fires.
Take the following precautions to stay safe:
- Have the fireplace inspected and cleaned annually by a professional chimney sweep.
- Have a removable cap installed at the top of the chimney to keep out debris and animals.
- Install a spark arrestor that has 1/4 inch mesh.
- Maintain proper clearance around the fireplace and keep it clear of combustible materials such as books, newspapers and furniture.
- Always close the screen when in use, but keep glass doors open during the fire.
- Use a fireplace grate.
- Never burn garbage, rolled newspapers, charcoal or plastic in the fireplace.
- Avoid using gasoline or any liquid accelerant.
- Clean out ashes from previous fires and store them in a noncombustible container with a tight-fitting lid. Keep the container outside and away from the house.
- Make sure the fire is completely extinguished before closing the damper.
These appliances can be an affordable option for heating a small space, but they also are the leading source of house fires during winter months. Follow these guidelines when using space heaters:
- Look for products that have been tested by Underwriters Laboratory (UL).
- Buy a model with an automatic shutoff feature and heat element guards.
- Maintain a 36-inch clearance between the heater and combustible materials, such as bedding, furniture, wall coverings or other flammable items.
- Do not leave a space heater unattended.
- Electric heaters should be inspected prior to use.
- Check the cord for fraying, cracking and look for broken wires or signs of overheating in the device.
- Use only heavy-duty extension cords marked with a No. 14 gauge or larger wire.
- If the heater plug has a grounding prong, use only a grounding (three-wire) extension cord.
- Never run the heater cord (or any cord) under rugs or carpeting.
- Liquid-fueled heaters must be operated using only the fuel recommended by the manufacturer.
- Never use gasoline or any other substitute fuel.
- Allow the heater to cool down prior to refueling.
According to USFA, electrical home fires in the U.S. claim the lives of 280 people and injure 1,000 more each year, while home electrical problems account for $1 billion in property losses every year. Use the following information to reduce the risk of an electrical fire:
- Routinely check your electrical appliances and wiring for frayed wires or cords.
- Promptly replace any cords that are frayed or damaged.
- Avoid overloading an outlet.
- Replace any electrical tool that causes even a small electrical shock, overheats, shorts out, or emits smoke or sparks.
- Keep electrical appliances away from wet floors and counters.
- Don't allow children to play near electrical appliances.
Here are some important tips for developing a home fire escape plan:
- Draw a map of each level of your home and show all doors and windows. Find two ways to get out of each room.
- Know the safest exit route; practice crawling low - necessary for escaping through smoke which contains toxic gases, which can disorient you or, at worst, overcome you.
- Make sure all doors and windows that lead outside open easily and that every family member understands and practices how to properly operate and open locked windows and doors especially those with security bars that should be equipped with quick release devices to allow them to be opened immediately in an emergency.
- Remember to never open doors that are hot to the touch - fire may be on the other side; leave the door closed and use your secondary escape route.
Important tips for developing a home fire escape plan continued:
- Only purchase collapsible escape ladders evaluated by a recognized testing laboratory. Use the ladder only in a real emergency.
- Teach children how to escape on their own in case you cannot help them. And, teach them not to hide from firefighters.
- Have a plan for everyone in your home who has a disability.
- Practice your fire escape plan at night and during the daytime with the entire family twice a year and sound the smoke alarm.
- Designate a safe meeting location a safe distance in front of your home where everyone can meet once they have escaped, such as a specific tree, at the end of the driveway, or front sidewalk.
- Take attendance to make sure everyone has gotten out safely.
- Never go back into a burning building for any reason.
- If someone is missing or pets are trapped inside, tell the firefighters right away. They will make the safe rescue.
- Make sure everyone in your home knows how to call 9-1-1 or local emergency number.
- Make sure that your house number can be seen day or night from the street for fire and emergency personnel.