Madonna Badger wasn’t awakened by her three daughters’ squeals of delight on Christmas morning 2011. Instead she awoke to smoke in a dark and silent house. Quickly the house was engulfed in flames, and all efforts to save her family failed. Ashes from the fire that had warmed her Connecticut house on Christmas Eve had been carelessly disposed of, and in the night, the embers caught fire. In addition, no smoke alarm sounded a warning. The resulting inferno robbed Badger of her children, her parents and her home.
Whether you light a fire in an open fireplace, or heat your home with an enclosed fire in a wood- or coal-burning stove, fire safety is everything.
Heating fires, according to the U.S. Fire Administration, account for 36% of rural residential home fires each year. These disasters are easily preventable through simple safety measures.
To prepare your home for a safe season take these preemptive actions:
1. Install smoke alarms on every level of your home. Test them once a month to ensure functionality. Also install a carbon monoxide detector.
2. Have your fireplace or wood stove and chimney inspected and cleaned at least annually, more frequently if you heat 24/7 with a self-contained wood- or coal-burning stove. Creosote buildup and cracks in the ventilation system can lead to chimney fires. You can find a local certified inspector through the Chimney Safety Institute of America at www.csia.org/search .
3. If you use an open fireplace, remove flammable items from around the hearth.
4. Clear your roof of leaves and pine needles, and remove branches that are positioned above the chimney.
5. Mount a mesh-screen spark arrester on your chimney to further protect your house and surrounding foliage from sparks.
A few operational guidelines should be followed to ensure safety as each fire warms your home:
6. Before lighting a fire, open the chimney’s flue. Keep your wood stove’s air inlet and your fireplace’s doors open while you have a fire. Restricted oxygen supply inhibits complete combustion and can lead to creosote buildup in the chimney.
7. Burn small fires using seasoned hardwood to reduce smoke production and creosote buildup. Do not burn flammable liquids, cardboard, or trash in a wood stove or fireplace.
8. Close your mesh screen on your fireplace to prevent embers from escaping into the room.
9. Never leave an open fireplace fire unattended.
10. Whether you have an open fireplace or self-contained heating stove, you will have ashes. Dispose of ashes in a metal container with a lid, and place the can at least 10 feet from any buildings.
Protect yourself, your loved ones and your home by responsibly approaching every fire you build during the coming cold winter months.