The high cost of home heating fuels and utilities has caused many Americans to search for alternate sources of home heating. The use of woodburning stoves is growing, and space heaters are selling rapidly—or coming out of storage. Fireplaces are burning wood and manmade logs.

All these methods of heating may be acceptable. They are, however, a major contributing factor in residential fires. Many of these fires can be prevented. The following fire safety tips can help you maintain a fire safe home this winter.

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Space Heater

Portable kerosene and other types of unvented heaters are being advertised and sold in Wisconsin. However, neither the Commercial Building Code nor the Uniform Dwelling Code permit their use, even if provided with oxygen depletion sensors. Use of such heaters is prohibited because the heaters are not vented and can cause a buildup of carbon monoxide and moisture in the room. Further, the heaters require frequent refueling, which can lead to spillage and additional fire hazard.

This means you should not be using space heaters in your home that are powered by fuels. They should be electric and appropriate safety measures should be followed.

  • When you use an electric heater, be sure not to overload the circuit.
  • Only use extension cords that have the necessary rating to carry the amp load. TIP: Choose an extension cord the same size or larger than the appliance electrical cord.
  • Avoid using electrical space heaters in bathrooms or other areas where they may come in contact with water.
  • Keep the space heater at least 3 feet away from combustible materials.
  • Be careful with pets and children around; they may get burned or knock over the space heater.
  • Newer space heaters have safety switches built in to automatically shut them off if they tip over.
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Wood Stoves & Fireplaces

Be sure the fireplace or stove is installed properly. Wood stoves should have adequate clearance (36”) from combustible surfaces and proper floor support and protection. Wood stoves should be of good quality, solid construction and design, and should be evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL). Have the chimney inspected annually and cleaned if necessary, especially if it has not been used for some time.

Do not use flammable liquids to start or accelerate any fire. Keep a glass or metal screen in front of the fireplace opening to prevent embers or sparks from jumping out, to keep unwanted material from going in, and to help prevent the possibility of burns to occupants. The stove should be burned hot twice a day for 15 – 30 minutes to reduce the amount of creosote buildup. Don’t use excessive amounts of paper to build roaring fires in fireplaces. It is possible to ignite creosote in the chimney by overbuilding the fire. Never burn charcoal indoors. Burning charcoal can give off lethal amounts of carbon monoxide.

Keep flammable materials away from your fireplace mantel. A spark from the fireplace could easily ignite these materials. Before you go to sleep, be sure your fireplace fire is out. NEVER close your damper with hot ashes in the fireplace. A closed damper will help the fire to heat up again and will force toxic carbon monoxide into the house. If synthetic logs are used, follow the directions on the package. NEVER break a synthetic log apart to quicken the fire or use more than one log at a time. They often burn unevenly, releasing higher levels of carbon monoxide.

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Smoke Detectors

Be sure every level of your home has a working smoke detector, and be sure to check and clean it on a monthly basis. If you do not have a smoke detector in your home, the Milwaukee Fire Department will install one for you free of charge. Call the Smoke detector Hotline at (414) 286-8980. Plan and practice a home escape plan with your family to be prepared if you do have a fire.

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Fire Hydrants

Please check for the fire hydrant closest to your home and keep it clear of snow this winter. A quick, reliable water source is critical to reduce damage to homes when a fire breaks out.

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Furnace Heating

It is important that you have your furnace inspected to ensure that it is in good working condition. Be sure all furnace controls and emergency shutoffs are in proper working condition.

Leave furnace repairs to qualified specialists. Do not attempt repairs yourself unless you are qualified. Inspect the walls and ceiling near the furnace and along the chimney line. If the wall is hot or discolored, additional pipe insulation or clearance may be required. Check the flue pipe and pipe seams. Are they well-supported and free of holes and cracks? Soot along or around seams may be an indication of a leak.

Is the chimney solid, with cracks or loose bricks? All unused flue openings should be sealed with solid masonry. Keep trash and other combustibles away from the heating system.

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Other Fire Safety Tips

Never discard hot ashes inside or near the home. Place them in a metal container outside and well away from the house. Never use a range or an oven as a supplemental heating device. Not only is it a safety hazard, but it can also be a source of potentially toxic fumes.

Frozen water pipes? Never try to thaw them with a blow torch or other open flame, otherwise the pipe could conduct the heat and ignite the wall structure inside the wall space. Use hot water for thawing or a device, like a hand-held dryer, evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL).

If windows are used as emergency exits in your home, practice using them in the event fire should strike. Be sure that all the windows open easily. Home escape ladders are recommended.