Enjoy a winter evening by the fire – safely

Kristina Blüm Justice
Staff Writer

Discarded fireplace ash, unsafe chimneys already causing fires this season

With winter weather in the forecast for this week, home heating safety remains a concern for local fire personnel as already this fall there have been chimney and fireplace ash-related fires in the Bishop area.
“And last year we had two garbage trucks that caught on fire because of ashes,” Dell said. “It’s one of the biggest causes of fires in this area.”
Improperly discarded fireplace ash has already caused fires this year. In once instance, a resident discarded ash from his fireplace into a compost bin outside before the ash was cool, causing the compost to ignite. In another, the Bishop Volunteer Fire Department responded to the Bishop landfill for a fire that appeared to be caused by discarded ash.
The best way to discard fireplace ash is to put it in a metal container – that is not near anything flammable such as other trash cans. Before discarding or composting the ash, make sure it is cool to the touch. Dell said he recommends adding a little bit of water to the ash to make sure it’s completely out.
Chimney fires are another major concern for homeowners and fire personnel alike. Earlier this month, a chimney fire that escaped into the attic of a Bishop area home caused the displacement of a family of six.
The best way to prevent chimney fires is to be proactive about making sure they are cleaned at the very least once per year. Dell said it’s best to have chimneys cleaned at the beginning of the colder season as well as halfway through the winter.
For other types of home-heating methods, Dell said the most important thing is to make sure all equipment is updated and three feet away from anything flammable.
“If it’s a space heater, plug it directly into a wall, not an extension cord,” Dell noted.
According to stats from FEMA, winter home fires result in roughly 890 deaths per year in the United States, and result in $2 billion in property loss. Cooking is the leading cause of house fires, but the leading factor contributing to the start of winter home fires is combustible materials that are too close to a heat source. Heating equipment is involved in one out of every seven house fires in the U.S., and one in every five house fire-related deaths.
The following is a list of tips for wood-burning fireplaces:
• Do not use chemicals such as gasoline or kerosene as fire starter. Do not burn painted, pressure treated or plywood as they can give of toxic fumes.
• Avoid burning wet, green, rotten, diseased or moldy wood.
• Only use local firewood. This helps prevent the spread of tree diseases and insects.
• Keep the fireplace clean. This allows better air flows and cleaner combustion.
• Always keep a fire extinguisher handy.
• Store cooled ashes in a tightly covered metal container and keep it outside, at least 10 feet away from the home and other nearby buildings.
General heating safety tips:
• Keep portable generators outside, away from windows, and as far away as possible from the home.
• Install and test carbon monoxide alarms at least monthly.
• Plug only one heat-producing appliance such as a space heater into an outlet at a time.

(Photo caption: The Bishop Volunteer Fire Department responded to a fire at the dump that appeared to be caused by fireplace ash that was disposed in a bag of trash.
Photo courtesy Bishop Volunteer Fire Department)