With the weather getting frosty and the promise of colder weather to come, folks may be breaking out the kerosene and space heaters and firing up the woodstoves and fireplaces to keep a little bit warmer.
Some of those supplemental heating sources can be dangerous if not used properly, and the Prince William Department of Fire and Rescue has some tips for people on how to prevent fires and keep safe this winter.
Deputy Fire Marshal Tom Jarman said that some of the things people can do to keep safe include using certified appliances and checking electrical components carefully when they come out of summer storage. Underwriters Laboratories, or UL, is a certifying agency that lists products as being safe if they’re used for their intended purposes. “One thing is to check the product itself to make sure that it is UL listed, or listed by a certification company, and that it’s used for that appropriate use. The other thing is to check that the wiring hasn’t chewed through, hasn’t been pinched or broken.”
Another important tip that a lot of people might not know about, Jarman said, is that cords should always remain uncovered, above carpets and blankets, and extension cords should be used with care. “One of the other things we always recommend is to check the manufacturer’s paper work. A lot of those devices were meant to be plugged directly into a wall outlet. Unfortunately, a lot of people use extension cords with those devices, but because of the high-power they draw, that will actually create issues with the extension cord and cause extension cords to melt down and catch fire.”
Special precautions should also be observed when using kerosene, propane and natural gas heaters, as well as fireplaces and woodstoves, Jarman said. Kerosene heaters should be refueled outdoors and the heaters should be allowed to cool before refueling. People should make sure they’re using the proper fuel. Using gasoline in a kerosene heater can be deadly.
Another common mistake people make is to mishandle fireplace ashes. Jarman said they have several instances every year where people collect ashes in plastic containers or paper bags and then store them on their decks, near their houses or sheds. It’s a bad practice, Jarman said. “Those coal piles, especially in the center, they can stay hot for days. So, we recommend putting them in a fire-safe container, typically metal, and out and away from combustible structures.”
Fireplaces, woodstoves and chimneys should be inspected and cleaned annually. Use a metal mesh screen in front of the fireplace. Use only seasoned wood, not greenwood, artificial logs or trash. Never leave a fire unattended.
Jarman also said that all combustible items such as blankets and curtains should be kept at least three feet from space heaters and people should always use space heaters with automatic and tip-over shut off features.
Any of the heat sources that burn fuel, such as fireplaces and woodstoves, emit carbon monoxide. People should take special steps when using, gas, propane and oil appliances as well, Jarman said. “They should always have a fully operational [carbon monoxide] detector on each level of the home.”
Visit the Department of Fire and Rescue’s website for more information on how to keep you and your home stay safe from fire. Holiday fire safety tips can be found here.