November's early blast of winter is forecast by some as the harbinger of colder temperatures ahead. With them will come the annual danger from fires caused of people trying to stay warm.
South Carolinians tend to turn on space heaters or enjoy the warmth from a fireplace. State Fire Marshal Jonathan Jones is urging citizens to be especially careful.
“Each season brings with it changes in the weather and our daily habits,” Jones said. “However, the risk of fire always increases any time heaters are turned on and fireplaces are in use. As such, we need to remain vigilant about fire safety, especially since our statistics reveal more home fires occur during the winter months than during any other part of the year.”
During last year’s winter months, 29 fatal fires in South Carolina resulted in 33 fire deaths. Ten of those fatalities, or 30%, were related to heating.
South Carolinians can reduce their risks of becoming a fire casualty by identifying potential hazards. Jones offers the following tips to keep homes and families safe this winter season:
• Only use kerosene heaters and space heaters according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Inspect the heater for cracked or broken plugs. If frayed, worn, or damaged, do not use the heater. Never leave heaters unattended. Always plug the space heater directly into the wall, not an extension cord or power strip; unplug when not in use.
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• Heating pads and electric blankets also pose a fire risk – especially if more than 10 years old. Don’t place anything on top of either one while in use – this includes other blankets or pets. Never fold electric blankets or use while sleeping.
• Portable generators, commonly used in the winter as a result of storm-induced power outages, produce odorless and deadly carbon monoxide. Follow manufacturer’s instructions to prevent death from carbon monoxide. Never use a generator indoors.
• Be careful when using candles and keep them out of reach of children and pets. Since it is an open flame, never use a candle if oxygen is used in the home. Use sturdy candle holders and extinguish upon leaving a room or going to sleep.
• Since they are much safer to use than candles, have flashlights ready to use in case of a power outage.
• Make sure the fireplace has a sturdy screen to stop sparks from flying into the room. Only burn seasoned and dried wood. During the upcoming holiday season, avoid hanging decorations around the fireplace area. Never burn wrapping paper in a fireplace; it burns too fast and hot to be controlled. Wait until ashes are cool before putting them in a metal container. Keep the container a safe distance away from your home. Never put ashes in a cardboard box or bag.
• Chimneys should be cleaned and inspected every year by a qualified professional. If not, they can become filled with highly flammable layers of creosote.
• Do not use the kitchen stove or oven to heat the home. Neither are designed to heat large areas, and the element may fail causing a fire. Never leave food cooking on the stove unattended.
Smoke alarms should be installed on every level of the home - inside and outside of sleeping areas. Also, sleep with the bedroom door closed. Closing the door can increase your chance for survival by slowing the spread of fire and smoke.
“Every second counts when escaping a fire,” Jones said. “Take a few minutes to test and check your smoke alarms. If any of the alarms are more than 10 years old, they need to be replaced.”
Lastly, if there is a fire emergency, call 9-1-1 as soon as possible and remain outdoors. Never return inside a burning building for any reason.
As of Oct. 31, 53 people had died in fires in South Carolina in 2019. That's down from 97 deaths in all of 2018. The hope now is to end the year with no more fatalities. Being cautious with heating is a key step in making that a reality.