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Avoiding household fires this winter

December 23, 2010

This structure fire in Big Pine in December 2009 completely destroyed the residence on the corner of Richard and Blake. The cause of the fire is believed to be electrical problems or improperly stored hot ashes. Photo by Angie Calloway

With the cold temps comes the need for heat. With the heat should come vigilance by consumers in ensuring that the heat source is not compromised. An expert on the subject, Bishop Fire Chief Ray Seguine, recently offered a laundry list of safety tips to be fire and heat safe this winter season.
Seguine said that there has not been a problem with chimney fires this year as much as poorly installed wood burning inserts, such as pellet stoves. He explained that some inserts connect the flue to the existing chimney in a home. The chimney must be properly and securely fitted with a stainless steel lining. A poorly installed flue or liner could lead to smoke build-up that could lead a chimney fire.
“And a chimney fire has the potential to become a structure fire,” Seguine said.
What’s the tell tale sign of a chimney fire? A loud jet-engine like noise, Seguine said. He said it is unmistakably loud and if heard, the residents should call the local fire department, the sooner the better.
Chimneys should be inspected and cleaned before being put to use, Seguine said.
Ashes from fire places also pose a potential danger. Seguine said ashes can smolder for days or even weeks and it only takes a little oxygen or fuel to get those embers sparking again. Seguine said he suggests a using a large metal bucket to put ashes in, then adding water and stirring to ensure the embers are extinguished.
“Don’t assume they’re out,” Seguine said. He said ample time and water is the only way to ensure the coals will be out.
Seguine said that hot ashes left in a bucket outside a residence are believed to be the cause of a dual-structure fire in Bishop last winter.
Electric heat is another source of potential fire danger. “Do not run sub-standard heaters or use sub-standard electrical cords,” Seguine said. He added he understands that money for these pieces can be an issue, “but, it is cheaper in the long run” to invest in the more expensive, safer heaters.
Space heaters should be given a three-foot buffer zone and should not be tipped, or leaned up against a wall. Space heaters are not clothes driers, either, Seguine said. A towel thrown on a space heater is a sure way to start a fire. Seguine said this situation was the cause of a mobile home fire last winter.
Heat tape can also be a source of potential fire danger. Seguine said he’s seen heat tape arc underwater. He suggested heat tape only be used as per the manufacturer’s instructions. Additional insulation is not needed with heat tape. He said if a consumer has any questions about the reliability of the tape to simply unplug it. A professional, licensed plumber can assist in proper installation, Seguine added.
A carbon monoxide, or CO, detector is a good product to check for dangerous emis-
sions from appliances and heaters. Seguine said to use these devices in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.
For more winter heating safety tips, go to the National Fire Protection Association website at

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