The weather outside will be frightful before we know it—but before you light a fire in the fireplace or turn on your heating appliances, remember that fire safety is crucial even (and especially) during the colder months.
John Stary, fire inspector/investigator with the City of Victoria Fire Marshal’s Office, said that when temperatures drop, his department responds to many near-fire incidents as residents crank up the heat in their homes.
Space heaters are the most common seasonal hazard the Victoria Fire Department sees each year. Part of the problem, Stary said, is that many households use older space heaters that are not up to today’s safety standards.
“Space heaters have come a long way,” Stary said. “The new ones are programmed to shut off if they tip over. The older space heaters have an exposed heating element in the front, so if they tip over onto anything, it’s just like sticking it in a toaster.”
Even newer space heaters can overload if they are left on overnight. Space heaters should also be kept clear of any flammable materials as well as water or other drinks that could pose an electrical hazard.
If your Christmas plans include roasting chestnuts on an open fire, be sure your chimney is free of flammable soot residue. Stary recommends residents clean their chimneys once a year or, if they are used infrequently, at least every few years.
“When carbon-based chemicals build up in a chimney, they can catch fire,” Stary said. “Then, depending on how well-maintained the building is, the fire can extend through the flue space and ignite the house.”
Families without central heating often turn on their ovens to heat up the house, but this poses several dangers. If an electrical oven is set to 350 degrees with the door open, the appliance will futilely try to heat up to that temperature, which can cause an overload. A gas stove with exposed flames presents an additional fire hazard, and an older, less efficient stove is even more dangerous because it can emit carbon monoxide.
Carbon monoxide poisoning from gas-powered stoves, heaters and other appliances is especially common during the colder months. Residents should ensure that pilot lights on gas-powered appliances are burning blue; if they aren’t, that could be a sign the appliance is burning residual chemicals that release carbon monoxide.
And while Christmas morning usually brings a flurry of plugging in new electronics, Stary cautioned residents to avoid plugging too many devices into one outlet or using the wrong type of charging cord for a device.
“When people misplace the charger that goes with a device, they might go out and buy a new one, but if it’s not rated for that device, it can short out,” Stary said. “Even if a charger fits, it could be incompatible or have the wrong setup.”
When colder temperatures set in, residents may be tempted to turn to any heating source they can find. However, avoiding unsafe heating sources and being cautious with fire, gas-powered appliances and electronics will help make the holiday season merry and safe.
Sam Hankins is the communications specialist for the City of Victoria.