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Winter fire safety

With the cold weather upon us, Fire Marshal Joseph Inga provides timely information about staying safe.

While households are encouraged to be diligent about fire safety year round, it becomes especially important now because home fires are more prevalent in winter than in any other season. According to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), an estimated 108,400 residential building fires occur during the winter months each year in the United States.

Sheriff Michael F. Strada and the Sussex County Fire Marshal would like to pass along the following tips and suggestions to ensure the safety of county residents and their families.

General Cold Weather Fire Safety
  • If your pipes freeze, do not try to thaw them with a blowtorch or other open flame. The pipe could conduct heat and a fire could be started. Try a hand held dryer, hot water or a UL labeled device for thawing.

  • Never use an oven or a range to heat your home. This is a safety hazard and could cause a build-up of carbon monoxide.

  • Be certain that all windows that are used as emergency exits can still be opened in the winter. Practice your escape plan at this time of year.

  • If there is a fire hydrant near your house, help keep it clear of snow and debris. We need to be able to access it in case of a fire.

  • Generator safety information sheet from the National Fire Protection Association

Fireplaces and Wood Stoves
  • Never leave a fire unattended!

  • Have your chimney and fireplace inspected annually by a certified chimney sweep. They will check for creosote build-up, cracks, crumbling bricks and obstructions.

  • Make sure the fireplace opening is covered with a sturdy metal screen or heat tempered glass doors.

  • To prevent fires in your flue, burn dry, well-seasoned wood. Never burn trash.

  • Make sure your wood stove burns hot twice a day for 15-30 minutes to reduce the amount of creosote buildup.

  • Never burn charcoal indoors—it can give off lethal amounts of carbon monoxide.

  • Always be certain the fire in your fireplace is out before going to bed. It is extremely important to never close your damper while there are hot ashes in the fireplace. A closed damper could cause the fire to flare up again and this will cause toxic carbon monoxide to be released into the house.

  • If you are using synthetic logs, always follow the directions on the package. Never break a synthetic log apart to quicken the fire or use more than one log at a time.

  • Place ashes outdoors in a covered metal container at least three feet away from anything that could burn.

Portable Heaters
  • Make sure you have at least 36 inches of empty space between all heaters and everything else, like curtains, furniture, papers and people.

  • Never leave children unattended in rooms with portable heaters.

  • Be sure the heater has a tip-over shut off function.

  • Never use an extension cord with portable electric heaters—it is a common cause of fires.

  • Check the cord on your electric portable heater. If it is cracked, frayed or gets hot, have the heater serviced.

  • Be sure to clean the dust from all heaters. If left to build up, dust and lint can ignite and cause a fire.

  • Be sure to turn portable heaters off when leaving the house or sleeping.

  • Avoid using portable heaters in the bathroom.

  • Leave furnace work to experts. Have a qualified technician check and clean your furnace every year.

  • Be sure the emergency shut off and automatic controls are in good condition.

  • Always keep trash, papers, paint, etc. away from the furnace area.

Finally, make sure your smoke detectors are functioning properly and that there is one installed on each level of your home. Smoke detectors save lives!

Have questions or need more information? Contact Sussex County Fire Marshal Joseph C. Inga at 973.579.0380.

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