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Wilson sees rise in fires, WEMA director offers steps for prevention
Jan 15, 2013 4:00 pm
Last week, Wilson Emergency Management Agency responded to five structure fires within 24 hours.
“And we’ve had several since then,” said John Jewell, WEMA director.
That number is definitely unusual, according to Jewell, but he said it’s also not uncommon for this time of year.
“We just basically attribute that to cold weather,” said Jewell.
Emergency responders know that when rainy weather is expected, so are increased numbers of car crashes; when hot weather is expected, so are heat-related medical conditions.
“Anytime there’s a patch of cold weather, we always anticipate more fires,” said Jewell.
Some of the key causes of house fires during cold weather include unmaintained space heaters, overloaded extension cords, dirty or cracked chimneys and even overworked central heating units.
Every year, tens of thousands of heating-related fires happen, causing hundreds of deaths. According to the National Fire Protection Association, in 2010 there were 57,100 heating fires in the U.S. and 490 people died in those fires.
But cold-weather fires are preventable in many cases.
The following steps can significantly reduce the risk of a house fire:
• keep anything that can burn at least three feet away from heating equipment (furnace, wood stove, portable heater, fireplace, etc.).
• use only heating equipment that has the label of a recognized testing laboratory.
• never use your oven for heating.
• turn portable heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed.
• make sure all fuel-burning equipment is vented to the outside to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
• test smoke alarms at least monthly.
• buy only newer-model heaters that have all of the current safety features like overheat protection and a tip-over switch.
• locate the space heater on a level surface away from foot traffic.
• don't use the space heater as a dryer for clothing, wet towels, etc.
• use a power strip to protect both the space heater and your home's wiring from power surges and overloaded circuits.
• turn power strips completely off when you go to bed or leave the house.
• make sure chimneys are clean and in good condition.
• don’t push central heating units too hard.
• don’t use electrical outlets or light switches that are loose or in poor working condition.
• clean space heaters of dust and lint regularly.
• don’t overload extension cords or power strips.
- MCT contributed to this report