MINWS 12-7 fire safety pic

Photo by Alan Warren, Messenger-Inquirer/awarren@messenger-inquirer.com Battalion Chief Steve Leonard holds a smoke alarm in front of Engine 1 on Tuesday at the Owensboro Fire Department's Station 1 at 512 W 9th St.

November to March is the most deadly time for house fires.

Across the nation, more than 900 people die annually in winter home fires and 400 die from carbon monoxide poisoning.

The biggest culprits in winter home fires? Heating and cooking.

“Any alternative heating method poses hazards,” said Steve Leonard, Owensboro Fire Department battalion chief.

Electric space heaters, for example, need to be placed at least 36 inches from combustible material, such as drapes, furniture, bedspreads and clothes.

Space heaters should have an automatic shut-off mechanism to ensure they quit operating if they are tipped over.

“Maintenance and housekeeping are two key factors in preventing home fires,” Leonard said.

Heating units need an annual tune-up, which includes a flue inspection. Natural gas water heater flues should be checked annually, too. A loose flue can pose a carbon monoxide threat.

Woodburners and fireplaces should have chimneys checked and cleaned annually to take care of creosote buildup. Also, Leonard said, there could be a crack or missing mortar in a chimney that would allow carbon monoxide into the house.

He recommends a carbon monoxide detector in any home that heats with propane, wood, kerosene, natural gas or fuel oil. An all-electric home is the only one that doesn’t have the potential of producing the deadly gas.

Multi-level homes should have a detector on each level. It is best to place them outside bedrooms.

On smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, Leonard said it is important to follow the manufacturers’ recommendations for installation.

“Eighty-five percent of homes in the U.S. have smoke detectors,” he said, “but only 50 percent of them actually work because people don’t maintain them.”

He recommends a smoke detector in every room except the kitchen, bath and garage.

They should be checked monthly to make sure they are working properly. It requires a quick press of a button on the detector.

Homeowners who choose battery-operated models should change the batteries at least twice a year. A good time is when clocks need to be reset in the spring and fall.

Leonard recommends replacing detectors that are 10 years old and older.

Owensboro homeowners who can’t afford a smoke detector can call 270-687-8407 or 270-687-8408 and request one for free. Batteries will be provided also, if needed. And residents who are physically unable to install the smoke detector will receive assistance, Leonard said.

Thanksgiving was the peak day for home cooking fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Thanksgiving was followed by Christmas and Christmas Eve, so the holidays are a time to be cautious around heat-producing appliances.

Small grease fires on the stovetop can be smothered by sliding a lid over the pan and turning off the burner. Leave the pan covered until it is completely cool.

For oven fires, turn off the heat and keep the door closed.

Homeowners should not cook while they are sleepy or consuming alcohol.

The use of tobacco products is another major cause of fires. “If you have smokers in your home, smokers need watchers,” Leonard said.

Make sure ashtrays don’t overflow. Burning cigarettes, cigars and pipes should not be left unattended.

And Leonard said homeowners should be careful when they discard cigarette butts. They should be placed in sand or submerged in water long enough they won’t reignite.

Ashtrays should not be emptied into trash cans. Butts can smolder for hours in furnishings or trash cans, causing deadly fires in the middle of the night.

“We will investigate several fires each year that the cause is smoking material,” Leonard said.

Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, rbeasleyjones@messenger-inquirer.com

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