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 other tips.

“Cooking fires are the leading cause of house fires,” said Lt. John Barrett of the Plano Fire Department. “Some tips would be to never leave your cooking appliances unattended while cooking, keep combustibles away from the stove, and keep small children away from the stove while cooking.”

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.

Those using a space heater should take precaution. Data released by local fire departments states that 21,000 fires a year are a result of space heaters.

Officials recommend keeping a distance of 3 feet between a space heater and any combustible material.

Space heaters can overload extension cords and power strips and cause a short, so they should be plugged directly into a wall outlet, officials say.

They 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.

“Natural Christmas trees need to be in a holder that is of adequate size to hold the tree securely and not tip over,” Barrett said. “Natural Christmas trees need to be watered daily. Cut 2 inches off the trunk before you place it on the stand. Keep natural Christmas trees at least three feet from any heat sources. Be sure the tree is not blocking an exit from your home. Remove the tree whenever the needles fall off readily when a branch is shaken or if the needles are brittle and break when bent due to dryness.” 

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. Candles should not be left lit and unattended. And officials say LED lights should be used as they produce less heat.

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.

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