INSIGHT

Preventing Winter House Fires

Blog Author - Janet Costa
Janet Costa

Winter in New England is the season for wool socks, hot chocolate, and flannel sheets. But it’s also the time of year when people’s houses are most likely to catch on fire.

a candle burning on a table inside

There are a number of reasons for this—no doubt the use of wood-burning stoves as a source of heat is one of the first things to come to mind.

But potbellied stoves are not the only suspects we need to keep an eye on if we want to get through the winter without the volunteer fire department showing up at our homes. We need to take precautions with other devices as well.

Chimneys. There’s nothing cozier than curling up with the ones you love in front of a crackling fireplace on a frigid winter night. But if you have not regularly had the chimney cleaned, you’re setting yourself up for a chimney fire. Burning wood results in creosote—an extremely flammable, gummy substance—building up inside of the chimney. It’s best to have that cleaned out by a professional chimney sweep before you start firing up the Yule logs in the winter. If you don’t know the last time your chimney was cleaned, you’re safer cuddling up with your loved ones in front of a YouTube fire on the TV—at least until the chimney has been swept.

Space Heaters. When the cold sets in, it makes sense sometimes to use a space heater for targeted warmth, as opposed to firing up a furnace that heats an entire home. Just be sure the space heater is sitting on the floor—if possible, a tile or wooden floor—and keep three feet around the space heater clear of household clutter. Look for a model that has an automatic shut off feature, which will prevent overheating, and don’t go to sleep with the heater still running. It’s safer to pile on extra blankets than to leave a space heater running while you sleep.

Candles. If you love burning candles in your home, you’re not alone. The National Candle Association estimates that candles are used in seven out of 10 American households. (Interesting fact: nearly 90 percent of those candles are purchased by women!) Remember at all times that a burning candle is an open flame, and respect it as such. Candles need to be placed on stable surfaces, and they need to be kept clear of anything that can catch fire. Candles in the bedroom? Very romantic! But more than a third of reported household candle fires begin in the bedroom, so please be careful. Most importantly, blow that candle out before you go to sleep.

Cigarettes. If you smoke, it's best to do it outside, but if it’s just too darned cold for that, then take some precautions. Put your cigarette out in an ashtray, and make sure it is completely extinguished. Don’t smoke if you are taking medication that makes you sleepy, and never smoke around medical oxygen. It is extremely flammable and could explode when exposed to flame. Never smoke in bed! If you fall asleep with a lit cigarette, you may wake up with your mattress or bedding on fire.