The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

February 6, 2013

Fire officials offer tips to keep residents safe during winter

By Justin Jones, Staff Writer

Wednesday, February 6, 2013 — Fire department personnel warn Stanly County residents to use caution in how they heat their homes to stay warm during the winter.

Albemarle Fire Chief Shawn Oke and Stanly County Fire Marshal Michael Roark urge that fire safety and caution be used in all parts of the year, but in particular when it comes to using alternative heating devices within a home.

In late November, one man died in a fire at his home in Norwood. Although Roark said that he could not point to a cause that started the fire, he did confirm that space heaters were found in the home.

“Basically damage was too severe to be able to piece things together and obviously, too, with the fatality and not being able to speak with someone to say that this space heater was plugged in (or not), that just makes it that much more difficult,” Roark said.

“There were space heaters, several that were pulled from the house. But we couldn’t determine if any were in use at the time of the fire.”

While the evidence in that situation was inconclusive, Roark did point to space heaters as the cause of a fire in December. Roark said the space heater was placed near a piece of furniture, starting a significant fire in the home.

Within the city of Albemarle, Oke said that through the winter, his department has not received any calls for an accidental house fire, but he has seen enough in his history as a firefighter to know the dangers of alternative heating sources.

“Make sure that if you are using a (space heater) you keep any type of combustibles away from it,” he said.

A second step of caution should be used to not overload an extension cord if one is needed.

“If you’ve got to use an extension cord, use one that is rated for power demands of that heater. We see people buy 99 cent drop cords, not designed for the electrical load heaters put on it. If you have to use one, and we don’t recommend it, just make sure the extension cord is rated for power demands,” he said.

Oke and Roark said that kerosene heaters and fireplaces can be the source of an accidental fire if they are not used with caution and serviced before initial use.

“Kerosene heaters, if you’re using those, make sure you keep anything that can burn away from them. Service them and clean it and only use proper fuels in them,” Oke said.

“Only fill it outside and don’t fill it in the house. And always extinguish it when you finish with it or leave the room.”

With fireplaces, Roark said that it’s important to know that the fireplace is suitable for use, as buildup known as creosote can form along the walls of the fireplace.

“It’s the by-product of the flaming combustion from the fireplace. It’s a thick chalky and greasy material that deposits on the lining of chimney, and because it is a carbon by-product, if it reaches a certain point in temperature, it can re-ignite,” Roark said.

If either a wood fireplace or fossil fuel such as kerosene is used, Roark said that carbon monoxide detectors should be present in a home, and smoke detectors should be checked frequently to ensure that they are working properly.

“Those are important, especially if you’re using alternative heating sources. (Carbon monoxide) is odorless and you can’t see it, or know it’s there until people feel symptoms,” Oke said.

In most circumstances, Oke said, taking the mentioned precautions can prevent a fire. In his experience, many fires labeled as accidental could have been prevented.

“I would say that a very large percentage of fires, especially some of the accidental, are preventable. I would say almost all accidental fires are preventable. You see things that people do, and if they didn’t it wouldn’t have happened,” he said.

Evacuate The Home

If a fire starts in a home, Oke said having a plan in place can be the difference in saving one’s life and those in the home.

“First and foremost you need to have a plan,” he said.

“Have multiple ways to exit your house.”

Recently, studies have shown that closing doors on the way out of a burning home can be critical to keeping the fire isolated.

“We’re really seeing the importance of closing doors. My recommendation is that as you evacuate, close doors, and close exterior doors. We’re seeing in research, houses in the past 10 years, are pretty fire resistant, so when you close (doors), you can confine a fire to that room,” he said.

“Part of an escape plan needs to be isolate as you exit.”

In the evacuation plan, he said everyone should be aware of a central meeting place, whether it be the mailbox or a tree in the yard. Having that meeting place ensures that all persons are accounted for, and allows firefighters to quickly understand if a person may be left inside the home.

A common mistake people make is trying to retrieve pets that they believe may be inside the home.

“Pets usually get out before owners do,” he said.

“Just get out and stay out.”

Oke urges anyone that is interested in gathering information that can be helpful in prevention or evacuation in the event of a fire to visit www.usfa. and click on their Citizens link at the top of the page.