Stay warm, but stay safe

As the mercury falls, concerns rise about the safety of families trying to stay warm.

According to FEMA’s department of U.S. Fire Administration, in one year alone home heating contributed to an estimated 53,600 reported U.S. home structure fires, with 400 deaths, 1,520 injuries and $893 million in property damage. These fires accounted for 14 percent of all reported home fires.

FEMA says that space heaters accounted for one-third of home heating fires and four out of five home heating fire deaths.

The leading factor contributing to home heating fires was failure to clean, principally creosote, from heating equipment, primarily chimneys, fire administration information says.

U.S. Fire cautions, “placing things that can burn too close to heating equipment or placing heating equipment too close to things that can burn, such as upholstered furniture, clothing, mattress, or bedding, was the leading factor contributing to ignition in fatal home heating fires and accounted for more than half (53 percent) of home heating fire deaths.”

According to FEMA, half of all home heating fires occurred from December through February.

Overall, the agency reported fire claims the lives of 3,400 Americans and injures approximately 17,500 each year.

The administration, more specifically, warns that “bedrooms are a common area of fire origin. Nearly 600 lives are lost to fires that start in bedrooms. Many of these fires are caused by misuse or poor maintenance of electrical devices, such as overloading extension cords or using portable space heaters too close to combustibles. Many other bedroom fires are caused by children who play with matches and lighters, careless smoking among adults and arson.”

FEMA says children of all ages set more than 35,000 fires annually, and every year more than 400 children nine years and younger die in home fires.

The agency says electrical fires can sometimes be attributed to trapping electric cords against walls where heat can build up.

In addition, bedding, clothes, curtains and other combustible items should be kept at least three feet away from space heaters.

Only use lab-approved electric blankets and warmers. Check to make sure the cords are not frayed.

No one should ever smoke in bed.

Smoke detectors significantly increase the likelihood of surviving a house fire. Detectors should be located on each story of a home, in hallways and especially in bedrooms.

Everyone should have a home fire safety plan and should practice escapes routes, especially with young children.

During these cold winter months, stay warm and stay safe.

— Editor Jim Zachary