Expert offers fire prevention tips

This electric fire started last month when a radio was left plugged in at a Lewis County cabin. When the owner returned after an extended absence and flicked the switch, the fire ignited quickly thereafter. Provided photo

LOWVILLE — No one expects a fire to happen in their home, but some steps make it less likely and others ensure everyone knows what to do if it does happen.

The most common cause of house fires, especially heading into colder weather, is creosote buildup in the chimneys of homes that use wood for heating, according to Lewis County Emergency Services Director Robert MacKenzie III in an interview on Friday.

Creosote is a flammable and toxic buildup on the inside of flues and chimneys, resulting from not enough oxygen to burn all of the wood oils. When it gets hot enough, it can catch fire.

“Clean your chimney and have it inspected,” Mr. MacKenzie said in a news release announcing Fire Prevention Week. “Burn only seasoned wood to prevent unnecessary creosote buildup in your stove pipes and chimney.”

He also cautioned wood burners to use steel ash buckets when cleaning ash out, no matter how long the fire has been out, and to dump the ashes in a safe place far away from homes, garages or other structures.

Although gas heating doesn’t typically cause a fire, people using this source should make sure outlet pipes are clear of any blockage like leaves or snow to avoid carbon monoxide buildup in the house.

To avoid electrical fires, Mr. MacKenzie recommends unplugging unused items, especially when going away for an extended period of time.

Even with precautions, fires do happen.

“If a fire can’t be prevented, then early detection is key,” Mr. MacKenzie said.

Smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors make different sounds that everyone should learn to recognize.

Knowing the language a smoke detector speaks is also important.

“Three loud beeps — beep, beep, beep — means smoke or fire. Get out, Call 911 and stay out!”

A single “chirp” sound every 30 or 60 seconds indicates the battery needs to be replaced.

If, even after replacing the batteries, a smoke detector continues to “chirp,” it is time to replace the detector.

Even without a chirp, Mr. McKenzie said fire detectors “need to be replaced every 10 years because the sensors degrade and get weaker over time.”

If there are people with sensory or physical disabilities in a home, detectors that meet their specific needs as well as those of the rest of the family should be chosen.

Once a fire is detected, knowing two ways to get out of a home is a good idea and doing some practice runs so that everyone knows what to do and where to go could be “a good weekend or home activity,” he said.

People with fire extinguishers should check the gauge and make sure it’s in working order and, Mr. McKenzie said, they make great gifts for those who don’t have one.

Mr. MacKenzie also recommends volunteering with a local fire department to join the ranks of “your friends and neighbors that answer the call when the siren sounds.”

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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