Chimney fire

This time of year local fire departments remind residents of ways to protect their homes from a fire.

Statistics from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) indicate that 30 percent of home fires and 38 percent of home fire fatalities occur during the months of December, January and February.

Fire departments offer several tips to reduce the risk of a house fire.

Merit Ossian, spokeswoman for the McKinney Fire Department, said in addition to cooking fires heating equipment is a major cause of winter house fires.

“Heating equipment is involved in one of every seven reported home fires – and one in every five home fire deaths according to the NFPA,” Ossian said. “Everyone needs to stay warm, but space heaters can be a real danger if they aren’t used properly.

Ossian said not to plug more than one space heater into an outlet at a time and not to plug a space heater into an extension cord or power strip.

Ossian said it’s important to keep anything that can burn at least three feet away from a heating source.

Ossian said candles are another factor in house fires with 8,200 candle fires reported in the country from 2012-2016.

“A big part of the problem is candles being placed too close to holiday decorations,” Ossian said. “Also, be sure to extinguish all candles before going to bed.  We recommend using candles with artificial flames. They look real and drastically reduce your fire risk.”

Officials remind those who have a wood-burning fireplace to have it cleaned and inspected yearly since the creosote can build up in the chimney and start a fire.

Officials also recommend using a space heater that automatically turns off if it's knocked over.

Christmas trees and candles are two of the most dangerous components to holiday fires, authorities say. One out of every 22 Christmas tree fires results in death.

Officials say if families use a live Christmas tree they should make sure it remains watered and that it's not located too close to a space heater. Artificial trees should come with a label that states it's fire resistant, and tree lights should be in good working order.

Other tips include not running an electrical cord under carpets, rugs or furniture, and they should not be run out a window.

All decorations should be at least 3 feet away from an open flame.

Local exterminators have advice as well. They say small animals can get into attics and chew on wires, which can start a fire.

Mark Shetterly of Critter Control said 80 percent of homes have an animal issue where they cause damage in the attic. He said it’s estimated that of those homes, 40-50 percent has wires that have been chewed on by animals.

Shetterly said while that doesn’t always lead to a fire, it does happen.

“There are a lot of factors,” Shetterly said. “But we’ve seen squirrels get electrocuted in the attic. A lot of it depends on if the wire is over a metal conduit or not.”

Shetterly said industry experts believe when a fire is caused by an unknown origin that there’s a 50-50 chance it was started by wildlife.

Shetterly suggested homeowners get an inspection from an exterminator. He said if the company notices signs of wildlife gnawing on wires it will remove the insulation, repair the wire and replace the insulation with cellulose insulation, which he said takes much longer to smolder than typical insulation.

Ossian said residents can take steps as well, such as filling in cracks or holes where rodents can get inside the home.

“A mouse can get into your home through a hole the size of a dime,” Ossian said.

Other tips include trimming tree branches back 6 feet from the home so rodents can’t get in, sealing dryer vents and cleaning trash areas.

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