Don’t set the night on fireWhile many of us navigate through these days of frigid winter weather, complaining about the cold, the snow and the inconvenience of it all, we sometimes lose sight of the fact this can also be the most deadly time of the year.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
While many of us navigate through these days of frigid winter weather, complaining about the cold, the snow and the inconvenience of it all, we sometimes lose sight of the fact this can also be the most deadly time of the year. The winter season in Minnesota brings with it the obvious risk of car accidents due to slippery, ice-covered roadways, but sometimes overlooked – and potentially more lethal – are the very real dangers of house fires and carbon monoxide poisoning.
At least two house fires occurred in the Cloquet area over the long New Year’s weekend, one of which was caused by a home owner trying to thaw frozen pipes with a propane weed burner. Fire officials urge homeowners never to use any type of device with an open flame when attempting to thaw pipes, and when in doubt, it’s worth the extra time and expense to call a professional.
Also, according the U.S. Fire Administration, faulty wiring accounts for some 33 percent of residential electrical fires, many of them occurring during the winter when folks are spending more time inside and utilizing more appliances and electrical heaters. Often a lack of electrical outlets in a room, especially in older homes built in the 1970s or earlier, prompts people to use extension cords and splitters, which contribute greatly to fire danger. Space heaters, which are commonly used during bitter winter weather, should not be left unattended or operated too close to flammable materials and should not be used in bathrooms or other areas where they might come into contact with water.
Children should be supervised at all times when playing around electrical appliances so they don’t stick anything into a space heater or possibly damage the wires in an electric blanket, either of which could create a fire hazard.
While it’s pleasant and helpful to have a roaring fire in the fireplace during cold weather, a little reason and restraint is appropriate there, too. Don’t burn pine boughs, cardboard or wrapping paper left over from the holidays, and remember to burn only well seasoned wood (left to dry for a minimum of a year), since green wood contributes greatly to creosote buildup in chimneys and stovepipes that can cause deadly chimney fires. Chimneys should be cleaned and inspected annually to ensure maximum safety.
When the coals in your fireplace burn down to ash, never put them into a garbage can when they’re still hot or around anything else that’s potentially flammable. Instead, put them in a bucket until they are completely cooled, preferably for several days, before disposing of them.
This period of winter is also the most deadly time for carbon monoxide poisoning, especially in today’s tightly sealed homes or in older homes that may have malfunctioning heating devices or poorly vented gas fireplaces. Carbon monoxide detectors are a must for all home owners and well worth the investment.
Finally, keep in mind those who are out there to provide emergency assistance in case a fire should break out in your home. Keep your sidewalks and access roads shoveled, and make it a point to keep the fire hydrants near your home clear of snow and ice at all times.
A little extra effort and a lot of common sense should help keep you and your family safe and sound this winter. Recent statistics show that deaths from house fires are at a record low, thanks in great part to the widespread use of smoke detectors. Let’s all do what we can to keep it that way.