Each year fire claims the lives of 4,500 Americans, injures thousands and causes billions of dollars worth of damage. People living in rural areas are more than twice as likely to die in a fire than those living in mid-sized cities or suburban areas. The misuse of wood stoves, portable space heaters, kerosene heaters and central heating units are especially common risks in rural areas and cause about 300 deaths a year. These heating sources are one of the most rapidly increasing causes of fire in the United States.
Teaching people to recognize the hazards can reduce fire problems. By following some of the outlined precautionary steps, individuals can greatly reduce their chances of becoming a fire casualty.
- Carefully follow the manufacturer's installation and maintenance instructions.
- Look for solid construction, such as plate steel or cast iron metal.
- Check for cracks and inspect legs, hinges and door seals for smooth joints and seams.
- Use only seasoned wood for fuel, not green wood, artificial logs or trash.
- Inspect and clean your pipes and chimneys annually and check monthly for damage or obstructions.
- Be sure to keep combustible objects at least three feet away from your wood stove.
Electric space heaters
- Buy only heaters with the UL safety listing.
- Check to make sure it has a thermostat control mechanism, and will switch off automatically if the heater falls over.
- Heaters are not dryers or tables; don't dry clothes or store objects on top of your heater.
- Space heaters need space; keep combustibles at least three feet away from each heater.
- Always unplug your electric space heater when not in use.
- Buy only UL approved heaters.
- Never fill your heater with gasoline or camp stove fuel; both flair-up easily. Only use crystal clear, K-1 kerosene.
- Never overfill any portable heater.
- Use the kerosene heater in a well-ventilated room.
- Fireplaces regularly build up creosote in their chimneys. They need to be cleaned out frequently and chimneys should be inspected for obstructions and cracks to prevent deadly chimney and roof fires.
- Check to make sure the damper is open before starting any fire.
- Never burn trash, paper, or green wood in your fireplace. These materials cause heavy creosote build-up and are difficult to control.
- Use a screen heavy enough to stop rolling logs and big enough to cover the entire opening of the fireplace to catch flying sparks.
- Don't wear loose-fitting clothes near any open flame.
- Make sure the fire is completely out before leaving the house or going to bed.
- Store cooled ashes in a tightly sealed metal container outside the home.
- Schedule annual furnace check-ups with a heating contractor. Inspection and preventive maintenance is your best insurance against costly repairs in the future.
- Maintenance not only helps prevent fires, but carbon monoxide poisoning. Insufficient combustion produces higher levels of this dangerous gas.
- Do routine checks of your heating equipment on your own. Look for rusted and loose parts, and other signs of deterioration such as water stains and leakage.
- If you have an old oil tank, have a professional check it over. Small pinholes can develop after all those years, and the only thing preventing a leak could be a coat of paint.
- Keep the furnace clear of all flammable substances. That includes paint, varnish, bleach, furniture stripper, other chemical solvents, fuel, and even lint from the dryer. Overheating alone can cause explosions. Store combustibles in sealed containers in well-ventilated areas and out of reach of children.
- Soiled rags are another fire hazard around furnaces. Rags that have absorbed oil, paint, glue and other chemicals can sometimes even burst into flames spontaneously. Store them in a closed metal container, outdoors, or dispose of them entirely.
- If you use the basement as a workshop, turn off the pilot light inside the furnace and water heater if you plan to work with combustibles, including spray cans. You can have a fire or explosion if a flame even comes in contact with certain vapors, let alone with the substance itself.
- If in doubt, contact a qualified furnace repair company. Arrange for service immediately if you suspect any problem.
The City of Kansas City, Mo., Fire Department recommends every home have a carbon monoxide detector. Carbon monoxide poisoning causes thousands of death each year because it is colorless, odorless and tasteless and often goes undetected until it’s too late.