Fire prevention crucial in winter months

Ryan Carpe, Staff Writer

December 18, 2013

DARKE COUNTY - Four fires plagued Darke County over the last weekend, damaging barns and houses over a two-day period and causing an increased awareness of fire safety.

On Sunday, local fire crews were simultaneously battling two fires: one north of Versailles and another west of Fort Jefferson in Liberty Township. Fortunately, there were no injuries involved in any of the incidents, however the rash of fires does raise the issue of raising fire prevention techniques in Darke County.

“Our busiest seasons are when the weather is really hot or really cold,” said David McDermitt, Assistant Chief of the Greenville Fire Department.

According to the National Fire Incident Reporting System, home fires occur most often in winter. In fact, around 905 people die in winter home fires each year nationally, and around $2,091,000,000 in property loss occurs from winter home fires. Sixty seven percent of those winter fires occur in one- and two-family homes, with cooking being the leading cause of all winter home fires.

The Darke County American Red Cross has been assisting several of the families of last week’s fires to either find new housing or repair their existing homes in the hopes of moving back in. The organization also provides linen, clothing, food, medication, and can even act as a guide to wade through the insurance claim process.

“Sometimes it’s just being there and walking the walk with them,” said Darke County American Red Cross Director Lynne Gump. “You just don’t realize, even with insurance, how much that loss is.”

But even with all the help provided by local agencies, it can still take years for a family to reach their comfort level of before the fire.

To curb the amount of cooking-related accidents, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends to always stay in the kitchen when frying, broiling or grilling food. And because family, friends and young children are often packed in the home during the holiday, it’s often important to turn pot handles into the stove and have a frying pan lid handy at all times to cover a potential fire.

Holiday decorating, while enjoyable, also brings a certain amount of risk involved of starting unforeseen fires.

Nearly half of holiday decoration fires happen because decorations are placed too close to a heat source.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends choosing decorations that are flame resistant or flame retardant. And many decorators forget that some lights are only for indoor or outdoor use, but not both.

While it sometimes feels festive to keep all your lights on overnight, the NFPA recommends to turn off all light strings and decorations before leaving home or going to bed.

Often Christmas lights using less wattage are safer, however the older, larger light bulbs can generate too much heat for a dry Christmas Tree.

The Greenville Fire Department recommends using the “bump test” before buying a live Christmas tree, meaning that customers bump their tree on the ground and look for loose needles before purchase.

And of course, after taking the tree home, residents are advised to put the tree in water before it has a chance to become dry.

And candles, while merry, are also a major cause of home fires. According to the NFPA, two of every five home decoration fires are started by candles.

As a precaution, it’s generally a good idea to blow out lit candles when you leave the room or go to bed, and keep them away from combustibles.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends to get anything that could catch fire at least three feet away from heating equipment.

When it comes to holiday entertaining, the National Fire Protection Association recommends to keep children and pets away from lit candles and to keep matches and lighters up high in a locked cabinet.

“Look at your house in the perspective of your youngest guest,” recommended Gump. “What you might think wouldn’t be a hazard could be at that eye level.”

One of the most obvious causes of fires in the home during the winter months are unattended space heaters. Residents are encouraged to keep close tabs on their heating units, and to always turn them off when leaving the room or going to bed. Tip-over switches are also essential, but even so they should be placed away from anything that could catch fire.

After noticing the rash of fires in the area, the Darke County American Red Cross recommended on Facebook two easy steps to help protect your home and loved ones from a fire: to get a smoke alarm and create a fire escape plan. After you’ve prepared your family, they encourage teaching others how to protect themselves.

As a rule of thumb, Greenville Fire Department also recommends homeowners utilize smoke detectors that use both ionization smoke detection and photoelectric smoke detection, which are the two most commonly recognized smoke detection technologies.

“You need to have a working smoke detector in each level of your residence. That is one of the most important lifesaving tools,” said McDermitt.

As always, residents are encouraged to test their smoke alarms on a regular basis.

The Greenville Fire Department also wishes to remind residents about the dangers of carbon monoxide, which is often undetectable.

To prevent heating systems from producing too much carbon monoxide in a condensed space, the NFPA recommends that all heating vents are clear of snow or ice to allow carbon monoxide to vent outside. And it’s also wise to have your heating system and chimney serviced each year by a qualified professional.