SPRINGFIELD – Heating costs are expected to rise dramatically this winter, raising concerns that home fires also may increase as people try alternative – and sometimes more dangerous – ways of heating their homes.
“While heating equipment is the leading cause of home fires during December, January and February, we believe we could see even more fires this winter as higher heating costs lead more people to look for less expensive ways to keep warm,” said Governor Rod R. Blagojevich. “Many people may turn to space heaters, wood-burning stoves and fireplaces, and each of them can be used safely. But it’s very important that people understand the potential dangers and use caution when using them.”
The Office of the State Fire Marshal’s (OSFM) effort to increase awareness about home heating dangers is part of Gov. Blagojevich’s Keep Warm Illinois
campaign, a comprehensive effort to inform and prepare Illinois residents for winter with information on energy assistance, home weatherization and winter safety tips. For more information, visit www.keepwarm.illinois.gov
or call (877) 411-WARM.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), heating equipment was involved in an estimated 45,000 structure fires in 2002, resulting in 220 deaths, 990 injuries and $449 million in direct property damage. Portable and fixed space heaters, including wood stoves, were involved in 25 percent of the home heating fires but caused 74 percent of the deaths.
Many fires involving space heaters are caused by combustibles placed too close to the heater. Always keep a 36-inch clearance between space heaters and anything that can burn. Portable space heaters should be turned off every time you leave the room or go to bed.
When buying a new space heater, make sure it carries the mark of an independent testing laboratory and be sure to have fixed space heaters, such a wood-burning stoves, installed by a qualified technician, according to manufacturer’s instructions or applicable codes. If your home already has a fixed space heater, have a qualified technician check to see that the unit has been properly installed.
Fireplaces and chimneys cause more than 40 percent of fires, most due to creosote build-up.
Wood and coal stoves, fireplaces, chimneys, chimney connectors and all other solid-fueled heating equipment should be inspected annually by a professional and cleaned as often as inspections suggest. It’s also important to use properly seasoned wood in fireplaces or wood stoves. Green wood has more moisture and is likely to smolder, leading to more creosote build-up. A moisture content of 20-25 percent is recommended, as wood that is too well seasoned may also result in creosote build-up.
Fireplaces should have a sturdy screen to prevent sparks from flying into the room. Allow fireplace and woodstove ashes to cool before disposing in a metal container.
Furnaces also should be checked every year by professionals to ensure mechanical parts are functioning properly and that nothing is blocking the flue. Such inspections will help keep energy costs down as well as ensure the safety of the home’s occupants. Malfunctioning furnaces increase both fire and carbon monoxide risks.
State Fire Marshal Dave DeFraties stresses the importance of ensuring a home has working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms and testing them monthly to ensure they’re in working order. “Because we traditionally see more house fires and incidents of high carbon monoxide levels during the winter months, it’s especially important to make sure these alarms are in working order. The advance warning these alarms provide can prevent tragedy by giving your family enough time to get out of house alive.”
The Keep Warm Illinois
) offers various no-cost and low-cost energy saving tips, a web-based tool to conduct a home energy audit, links to energy assistance programs and other resources. In addition, the Keep Warm Illinois
hotline (1-877-411-WARM) is another resource for Illinois residents to learn how to save energy and get energy assistance.