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Winter heating and fire prevention tips

POSTED: December 14, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Those blasts of cold weather over the last few weeks prompted many residents living in the North Georgia mountains to heat their homes for the first time this season.


Wood-burning stoves, space heaters and both natural wood and manmade logs are acceptable methods of heating; however, they are also major contributing factors in residential fires.


As the weather begins to turn cold, the number of residential fire calls increases by between 25 and 30 percent, said Dawson County Deputy Chief of Emergency Services Tim Satterfield.


Emergency services personnel have responded to four residential structure fires in Dawson County in the last week, fires that could possibly have been preventable by following fire safety tips designed to maintain fire safe homes this winter.


Dawson County Fire Inspector Jeff Bailey said he sweeps the chimney in his home twice each winter. “Once is recommended, but I sweep my own two times,” he said.


Fireplace sweeping is an imperative step, with minimum costs, in preventing residential fires, Bailey said.


Chimney sweeping removes creosote, the accumulation on the chimney’s inside surface that can ignite to cause chimney fires.


While creosote logs available at retailers such as Home Depot and Lowe’s claim to reduce the amount of creosote in chimneys, officials advise sweeping the chimney is a more viable and safer means of preventing fire.


“It’s advisable to have your chimneys professionally cleaned and inspected annually before the beginning of the heating season. Professional chimney cleaners have the knowledge and training and are more familiar with potential problems and defects than the average person,” Bailey said.


Creosote logs essentially create a fire in the chimney to burn out the accumulated creosote, the opposite of what should be done, because chimney fires, even those controlled and closely monitored, can spread and cause sufficient damage to the home.


Additionally, the extremely high temperatures — up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit — from a chimney fire can also damage chimneys by warping the chimney’s metal lining or cracking the lines on masonry chimneys.


Cracks in the lines allow flames to creep from within the chimney and into the home, Bailey said.


In the event a chimney fire spreads into the home, Bailey said all residential dwellings should be equipped with smoke alarms and fire extinguishers.


Fire personnel suggest installing smoke alarms on each level of the home and outside each sleeping area.


Homeowners should also check smoke alarm batteries every month, and batteries should be changed at least once a year.


Smoke and fire alarms have become more commonplace in new homes, but Bailey said he is surprised at the number of homes without fire extinguishers.


Satterfield recommends planning two ways out of each room, one of which would be the door while a second way might be a window. Emergency escape window ladders can be purchased at most home improvement stores, Satterfield said.


He believes every family should have a fire emergency plan, and also suggests families conduct home fire drills. He said evidence concludes that there are very few fire deaths at schools, because schools conduct fire safety drills on a regular basis.


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