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Follow these safety tips to avoid winter fires

The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) is offering residents guidance on ways to avoid home fires this fall and winter.

As a way to mark National Fire Prevention Week, which just concluded on Oct. 13, the IBHS released a statement: “While space heaters, fireplaces and wood-burning stoves can help consumers reduce energy bills during the colder months, it is critical that they be used properly.”

According to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), heating fires account for 36% of all residential home fires in rural areas every year. The majority of residential heating fires (87%) are started by a confined fire, such as from a chimney or fuel burner.

The IBHS suggests safeproofing fireplaces by having them inspected and cleaned annually by a chimney sweep; having a removable cap installed at the top of the chimney to keep out debris and animals; keeping the area clear of combustible materials such as books, newspapers and furniture; never burning garbage, newspapers, charcoal or adding any accelerant to a fire; closing the screen when in use, but keeping glass doors open during the fire; cleaning out ashes from previous fires and storing them in a noncombustible container with a tight-fitting lid; and keeping the container outside and away from the house.

According to the IBHS, space heaters are considered a leading source of house fires. Some precautions to consider: when buying an electric space heaters, make sure you are buying models with automatic shutoffs, providing 36-inch clearance around heaters, and inspecting the units prior to use and checking for frayed, cracked or broken wires.

They suggest using units with grounded plugs and using only heavy-duty extension cords with No. 14 gauge or larger wire. Never run the heater cords or any cords under carpeting. Never leave any space heater unattended.

With regard to liquid-fueled heaters, the institute suggests using only fuel that is recommended by the manufacturer and making sure these liquid-fueled heaters are safe for indoor use. The heater should be allowed to cool down prior to refueling to avoid combustion of the fuel.

Additionally, the USFA says that electrical home fires in general claim the lives of 280 people every year and may account for $1 billion in property losses annualy.

These sorts of fires may be avoided by routinely checking appliances and wiring for frayed wires or cords and replacing those that are in poor condition.

They recommend you not overload outlets and replace all tools or appliances that shock, overheat, short out, or emit smoke and sparks.

No one wants a repeat of last year’s Christmas Day tragedy, when five lives were lost in a Greenwich fire because of poorly disposed of ash. Take the above fire safety precautions to heart and, rather than assuming the best where fire safety is concerned, it might be more prudent to assume the worst.

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