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As Nights Grow Longer and Colder, Fire Risks Ignite

There’s nothing cozier than curling up by the fireplace with a mug of hot cocoa as fall nights become cooler. Kerosene heaters are also a commonly used option for chasing away the chill in many homes in the mountains of Western North Carolina. Candles, of course, are popular at Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmastime, and add a romantic ambiance during the dark nights of fall and winter.

However, fireplaces, kerosene heaters and candles are all potential fire hazards, so it’s important to make sure you know how to use them safely this fall and winter.

Take Precautions Around Flames of All Kinds

Follow these tips to keep you and your family safe when using fire this season:

  • Get your chimney checked annually to make sure it’s clear of obstructions that could catch fire.
  • Keep the area surrounding the fireplace free of flammable materials like books, newspapers and rugs. Use proper fireplace tools to build and tend your fire, and keep the glass doors open while the fire is burning.
  • Never leave the fire unattended, and make sure it is completely extinguished before leaving the house or going to bed.
  • Be careful about what you put in the fire. Do not burn garbage or plastic, and do not try to get the fire started by adding gasoline or other liquid accelerants. Use only firewood, kindling and crumpled paper.
  • For your kerosene heater, use water-clear 1-K grade kerosene — again, no gasoline! When you’re buying fuel at the pump, double check to be sure you get kerosene, as gasoline can cause an explosion inside the heater. Use your heater only according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Do not refuel your kerosene heater inside your home. Turn the heater off and allow it to cool down completely, then refuel it outside, away from flammable materials.
  • Operate your kerosene heater with care. These heaters produce low levels of carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, which are harmful in high concentrations. Leave a door open to the rest of the house while using the heater, and crack open a window to allow fresh air to circulate.
  • Place candles carefully, and never leave them burning while unsupervised. You should position them away from flammable materials and out of reach of children and pets. Make sure they’re on a heat-resistant surface.
  • Flameless candles are far safer and should be used when possible. You may be surprised by the similar effect they produce – and without the danger that comes with burning wicks.
  • Keep the candle free of debris and wick trimmings while burning, and do not burn a candle close to windows and air vents.
  • Be careful of the heat the candle produces. Use a snuffer (not your fingers or water) to extinguish the flame, and don’t touch hot wax.

Be Prepared in Case of a Fire

Even if you follow all these safety tips, you still need to make sure that you’ll be prepared in the event of a fire. Hopefully you’ll never need it, but keep a fire extinguisher easily accessible and educate yourself on its use. Install smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors (many devices now combine the two functions) in your home, and regularly test the batteries (replacing as necessary). Carbon monoxide is a gas that is just as dangerous as the fire itself. If you breathe in too much carbon monoxide, it can lead to unconsciousness and even death.

With a little foresight and an eye to safety, you can enjoy candles, fireplaces and kerosene heaters with peace of mind this fall and winter.

• Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association: Fireplace Safety
• Consumer Product Safety Commission: CPSC Stresses Kerosene Heater Safety
• National Candle Association: Candle Safety Rules
• Home Safe: Carbon Monoxide Detector Placement – Carbon Monoxide – Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

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