It’s that time of year again when pumpkins get carved and lit with candles, then more holiday candles come out for Thanksgiving and Christmas, stoves get a workout with festive meals and desserts, and wood-burning fireplaces are put into action to keep out the cold.
All of those things can and have been the cause of major house fires.
When a fire starts in a home, the occupants may have as little as two minutes to escape.
During a fire, early warning from a working smoke alarm plus a fire escape plan that has been practiced regularly can save lives.
Learn what else to do to keep your loved ones safe. According to the American Red Cross, the following are ways families can prepare for a home fire:
• Install the right number of smoke alarms. Test them once a month and replace the batteries at least once a year. Smoke alarms can be purchased at any local hardware store and retailers like Walmart, Home Depot and Target. Some cost as low as $6 and go up to over $50, depending on the features, make and model.
• Teach children what smoke alarms sound like and what to do when they hear one.
• Make sure that all household members know two ways to escape from every room of your home and know the family meeting spot outside of your home.
• Establish a family emergency communications plan and ensure that all household members know who to contact if they cannot find one another.
• Practice escaping from your home at least twice a year. Press the smoke alarm test button or yell “fire” to alert everyone that they must get out.
• Make sure everyone knows how to call 9-1-1.
• Teach household members to STOP, DROP and ROLL if their clothes should catch on fire.
Area fire departments are holding open houses Oct. 6-12 that will offer safety tips, demonstrations and fun for the kids. See the Oct. 2 Midweek edition of the Times for dates, times and locations, or go to www.myfenton.com.
Cooking and baking
No holiday celebration would be complete without a feast, but be sure to take precautions against kitchen fires when you’re cooking and baking. That includes keeping children and flammable items such as grocery bags and kitchen towels away from the stove and oven.
Clean up greasy spills as you go to remove another fire hazard. If you’re deep frying a turkey, keep the fryer well away from structures and trees, make sure your turkey is fully thawed, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your fryer.
According to Glenn Gaines, deputy fire administrator for the U.S. Fire Administration, the kitchen can be one of the most hazardous rooms in your home during the holidays.
“Before you begin your holiday meal preparations, I would like to remind everyone that cooking equipment, most often a range or stovetop, is the leading cause of reported home fires and home fire injuries in the United States,” he said. “Cooking equipment is also the leading cause of unreported fires and associated injuries.”
Gaines offers these tips:
• Young children are at high risk of being burned by hot food and liquids. Keep children away from cooking areas by enforcing a “kid-free zone” of 3 feet around the stove.
• Watch what you’re cooking. The leading cause of fires in the kitchen is unattended cooking. Stay in the kitchen when you are frying, grilling, or cooking food on the stop top or broiling food.
• Choose the right equipment and use it properly. Follow manufacturers’ instructions when using cooking equipment. Remember to plug microwave ovens and other cooking appliances directly into an outlet. Never use an extension cord for a cooking appliance, as it can overload the circuit and cause a fire. Cook only with equipment designed and intended for cooking, and heat your home only with equipment designed and intended for heating.
• Keep potholders, oven mitts, wooden utensils, paper or plastic bags, food packaging, towels and curtains away from your stovetop. Keep the stovetop, burners and oven clean. Wear short, close-fitting or tightly rolled sleeves when cooking.
• To prevent spills due to overturned appliances containing hot food or liquids, use the back burner when possible, and/or turn pot handles away from the stove’s edge. Use oven mitts or potholders when moving hot food from ovens, microwave ovens, or stovetops.
The best way to protect your pets from the effects of a fire is to include them in your family plan, according to the American Red Cross. This includes having their own disaster supplies kit as well as arranging in advance for a safe place for them to stay if you need to leave your home.
When you practice your escape plan, practice taking your pets with you. Train them to come to you when you call.
In the event of a disaster, if you must evacuate, the most important thing you can do to protect your pets is to evacuate them, too. But remember — never delay escape or endanger yourself or family to rescue a family pet.
Help firefighters help your pets
Keep pets near entrances when away from home. Keep collars on pets and leashes at the ready in case firefighters need to rescue your pet. When leaving pets home alone, keep them in areas or rooms near entrances where firefighters can easily find them.
Affix a pet alert window cling and write down the number of pets inside your house and attach the static cling to a front window.
Fireplace safety is key to preventing disasters Have a certified chimney sweep inspect and clean about once a year or after 80 fires
The tri-county area is rich with historic homes, many of which feature a wood-burning fireplace. Enjoying a warm, cozy fire requires a clean, safe fireplace. Here are some tips for keeping it that way:
• Fireplaces should not be used as furnaces. Use a fireplace for a short-duration fire — no longer than five hours.
• Keep the glass open to allow air to be drawn up to cool the chimney, but keep the screen closed to prevent sparks from jumping onto the carpeting.
• Never leave a fire unattended when children are in the house. Adults, even if near, should not allow children to play near or with fire tools and equipment.
• Open a window when using the fireplace to prevent the room from becoming smoky. The air coming in from the window will go up the chimney.
• Before making a fire, open the glass doors, pull aside the screen curtains, and place the kindling, newspaper and logs inside. Next, open the damper and a window. The window needs to be open only a few inches. You can check to make sure the smoke will go up the chimney properly by lighting a match, quickly blowing it out and watching the smoke to see whether it’s going up and out.
• Keep a nonflammable rug (available at fireplace-supply stores) in front of the fireplace so that sparks won’t melt or otherwise damage your carpeting.
• Use fireplace tools to handle burning logs. Never use your hands.
• Use a chimney cap to prevent water damage, to keep animals from nesting and to keep debris from blocking the chimney and causing carbon monoxide to flow into the house. Use a spark arrester to help prevent sparks from flying out, which could start a fire on the roof or lawn.
• Glass doors may develop tough stains from flames and heat. To clean them, make sure the glass doors are cool, then scrape off any thick gunk deposits with a razor blade. Add a squirt of liquid dishwashing detergent to a bucket of warm water, or add a cup of vinegar to a gallon of water. Spray or sponge the cleaner on, and then wipe it away with newspaper (which is lint-free). Another option is to buy glass cleaner at a fireplace store.
• Fireplace coals can remain hot enough to start a fire for up to three days, so always wait at least that long before removing the ashes. At that point, close the damper to prevent cold air in the flue from stirring up excess dust while you’re removing the ashes. Be sure to wear a dust mask and open a window in the same room as the fireplace to prevent negative air pressure. Use a shovel to scoop the ashes into a metal container. Store the container far from combustible materials and surfaces and wood floors.
• Never use a vacuum to clean up ashes, because live coals may remain in those ashes.
• Have a certified chimney sweep inspect and clean the chimney when necessary. Have him show you how to check it yourself, too. The chimney should be checked at least once a year or after about 80 fires.