January is peak month for residential fires

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Tuesday, January 3, 2012
— January is the peak month for residential fires in the United States, with December a close second.

That’s according to statistics released by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“A lot of houses are closed up, and it’s the heating season,’’ said Capt. Jody Stowers of the Janesville Fire Department.

Stowers said the most common causes of local fires are wood-burning devices, space heaters, overloaded extension cords and dried-out Christmas trees.

They aren’t the only causes, though. A dryer fire Dec. 20 displaced a Janesville family and a relative, killed two cats and left $50,000 in damages.

Stowers agreed with FEMA that cooking fires usually are smaller and more contained, while electrical fires cause more extensive damage.

Although cooking fires happen every few weeks in Janesville, “most are contained to the top of the stove or in the oven because they’re usually put out before we get there or burn themselves out,” he said.

Many fires are caused by overloaded electrical devices, extension cords and space heaters, Stowers said.

“If an appliance is not functioning properly and whatever circuit breaker it is plugged into doesn’t trip, it overloads the circuit and can cause a fire that extends into the wall,” he said.

Extension cords cause many electrical fires, Stowers said.

“People plug too many things into an extension cord that’s made to be used on a temporary basis and not be plugged in all the time,’’ he said.

Extension cords on floors can decay from people stepping on them, Stowers said, and cords stretched and hung over nails will eventually wear, causing shorts and fires.

People who need to use extension cords should plug their devices in, use them and unplug them immediately to avoid fires.

Stowers advised people to keep combustibles away from furnaces and water heaters. He suggested that residents have their furnaces checked and maintained annually.

He also urged people to plug space heaters directly into wall outlets and keep them away from combustible materials.

Residents who clean coals out of their fireplaces or wood burners should put them into metal, noncombustible devices until they are cold.

“People assume if they (coals) have been sitting for two or three days, they’re not burning any longer and scoop them in a paper bag. But it only takes one coal to get things going again. And it’s at night the coals can start burning and nobody is awake to notice,’’ Stowers said.

Burning candles also is common this time of year. Stowers said people should never leave them unattended.

“If you’re going to use them,” he said, “be sure they’re burning away from any combustible objects and make sure to blow them out.”


The National Fire Protection Association suggests these 10 things you can do this winter to stay safe from fire:

1. Keep anything that can burn at least 3 feet away from heating equipment, such as the furnace, fireplace, wood stove or portable space heater.

2. Have a 3-foot “kid-free zone” around open fires and space heaters.

3. Never use your oven to heat your home.

4. Have a qualified professional install stationary space heating equipment, water heaters or central heating equipment according to the local codes and manufacturer’s instructions.

5. Have heating equipment and chimneys cleaned and inspected every year by a qualified profession.

6. Remember to turn portable heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed.

7. Always use the right kind of fuel, specified by the manufacturer, for fuel-burning space heaters.

8. Make sure the fireplace has a sturdy screen to stop sparks from flying into the room. Ashes should be cool before putting them in a metal container with a lid. Keep the container a safe distance from your home.

9. Make sure you have working smoke alarms on every level of your home, inside each bedroom and outside each sleeping area.

10. Develop and practice a home escape plan that includes two ways out of each room and an outside meeting place.

Last updated: 7:37 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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