How to protect against fire danger
Josh Knechtel, the Orange Cemetery Superintendent, stokes up the fire in a radiant wood stove he has used to help heat his office . Recorder file photo/Paul Franz
Pellett stoves in the home can be less dangerous than radiant heat stoves and easy to load but they can still present some risks.
Larry Bernier of the Shelburne Falls Fire Department drops a weight on a chain down a chimney as crews work to extinguish a chimney fire in Shelburne Falls in this file photo.
Recorder file/Paul Franz
More fires break out during the winter than any other time of year.
The State Fire Marshal’s Office says the frequency of house fires spikes when the temperatures plummet.
“When we have a cold snap like (in early January), we seem to have more fires,” said Jennifer Mieth, spokeswoman for the fire marshal. “People tax their heating systems, and may also use alternative heating” like space heaters and fireplaces.
While a fire on the hearth may be cozy, it can lead to catastrophe when the right precautions are not taken.
Chimneys, flues, fireplaces, wood and pellet stoves should be regularly maintained to lower the risk of chimney fires. If deposits are allowed to build up in the chimney or stovepipe, they can catch fire, and the flames could spread.
When heating with wood, it’s safest to use dry, seasoned hardwood. Uncured hardwood or softwoods like pine can lead to extra buildup, and scrap lumber or furniture can contain harmful chemicals.
When disposing of stove or fireplace ash, Mieth recommends using a lidded metal pail. Embers won’t burn through it, and the lid will cut off oxygen, helping extinguish anything that’s still smoldering. Keep a full, lidded ash can well away from your home or anything that could catch fire.
The lid will also keep the wind from blowing hot embers out of an outdoor ash pail. It also doesn’t hurt to wet down the ashes once they’re placed in the pail.
Space heaters can cause deadly fires, as well.
“One of every seven space heater fires in the past five years has caused a fire death,” State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan wrote in a public advisory. “Space heaters need space, so use them in a three-foot circle of safety, away from anything that could catch fire.”
If you use a space heater, follow the manufacturer’s safety specifications, and never leave it running unattended.
Coan recommends keeping space heaters at least 3 feet from anything that may catch fire.
When possible, electric space heaters should be plugged directly into a wall outlet. If you must use an extension cord, make sure it’s rated to handle the wattage your heater uses. If it’s not, the cord could overheat and start a fire.
All cords should be kept free of anything that may cut or wear through their insulation. Don’t close doors on electrical cords, and keep them out of other places where they may become pinched.
If your space heater is designed to use a grounded outlet, do not use an adapter or cut off its ground plug to use a two-pronged outlet.
Conventional heating systems can be dangerous, too. Make sure your home’s heating system is cleaned and serviced at suggested intervals.
Low-venting furnaces and water heaters can become backed up when snow drifts pile up against their outdoor exhaust vents. Your dryer vent can also become blocked, and cause the appliance to overheat.
A blocked vent on a gas-powered dryer can also cause carbon monoxide and other harmful exhaust gases to build up in your home.
Know where your vents are located, and clear snow from them before it’s an issue.
When it’s extremely cold, you can reduce the stress on your furnace by turning the heat to the lowest comfortable temperature. Your furnace has to work a lot harder to keep your house at 70 degrees than 50.
Though many steps can be taken to prevent fires, they can still occur.
Keep fire hydrants near your home clear by shovelling them out after storms, and make sure they don’t end up buried in a snowbank after the plow goes by.
In all seasons, make sure your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors have fresh batteries and function properly. They can’t prevent a fire, but they could save your life with an early alert.
While firefighters are trained to do their jobs, it’s best for everyone when they don’t have to.
“Fire prevention protects firefighters as well as homes,” Mieth said.
— DAVID RAINVILLE