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Take steps to avoid house fires

Furnaces and space heaters have come on as the temperature has dropped into the 30s at night, and this is the time of year that house fires pose a danger.

Have your furnace and heating appliances checked this time every year, and follow this advice from the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety on ways to avoid home fires this fall and winter.

"While space heaters, fire places and wood-burning stoves can help consumers reduce energy bills during the colder months, it is critical that they be used properly," said Julie Rochman, IBHS president and CEO.

Heating fires account for 36 percent of all residential home fires in rural areas every year, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.

Most residential heating fires (87 percent) are started by a confined fire, such as from a chimney or fuel burner, according to USFA. Take the following precautions to stay safe:


Have the fireplace inspected and cleaned annually by a professional chimney sweep.

Have a removable cap installed at the top of the chimney to keep out debris and animals.

Install a spark arrestor that has quarter-inch mesh.

Maintain proper clearance around the fireplace and keep it clear of combustible materials such as books, newspapers and furniture.

Always close the screen when in use, but keep glass doors open during the fire.

Use a fireplace grate.

Never burn garbage, rolled newspapers, charcoal or plastic in the fireplace.

Avoid using gasoline or any liquid accelerant.

Clean out ashes from previous fires and store them in a noncombustible container with a tight-fitting lid. Keep the container outside and away from the house.

Make sure the fire is completely extinguished before closing the damper.

Space Heaters

These appliances can be an affordable option for heating a small space, but they also are the leading source of house fires during winter months.

Look for products that have been tested by Underwriters Laboratory.

Buy a model with an automatic shutoff feature and heat element guards.

Maintain a 36-inch clearance between the heater and combustible materials, such as bedding, furniture, wall coverings or other flammable items.

Do not leave a space heater unattended.

Electric heaters should be inspected prior to use. Check the cord for fraying, cracking and look for broken wires or signs of overheating in the device.

Use only heavy-duty extension cords marked with a No. 14 gauge or larger wire.

If the heater plug has a grounding prong, use only a grounding (three- wire) extension cord.

Never run the heater cord (or any cord) under rugs or carpeting.

Liquid-fueled heaters must be operated using only the fuel recommended by the manufacturer.

Never use gasoline or any other substitute fuel.

Allow the heater to cool down prior to refueling.

Remember, a little prevention can go a long ways towards keeping your home safe during the cold weather months.