5 ways to protect your home from fire during the winter months

Welcome to the first article in our series called #FastFive, where we provide five fast tips to educate and inform you on a variety of topics. For ten years, DFW Scanner has published daily news content, covering emergencies in communities across North Texas. Now, we are trying to do our part to not only keep you informed, but educated as well, to reduce these incidents and keep you safe.

As we welcome in our fall favorites, such as pumpkin spice, autumn decor, and Christmas music (for some of you early birds), it’s also time to dust off the warmer clothes and prepare for cooler weather. It is important to remember that heating devices, such as space heaters, and fireplaces can put your home at risk, if used flippantly. Let’s chat about a few ways to stay warm and free from disaster this winter season.

DID YOU KNOW: Heating equipment is the second leading cause of house fires in the United States.

1) Give your space heaters some space!

Space heaters are a great way to quickly warm up a room or lounge area. Although they are effective at providing quick heat, they are also dangerous if accidentally – or intentionally – left on for extended periods of time and close to furnishings, such as flammable furniture, drapes, blankets, etc.

The National Fire Protection Association says to leave your space heater 3 or more feet from anything or anyone. Heaters near curtains or blankets can quickly spark a fire and damage, or destroy, your home. Also be mindful of heaters left on and unattended – especially if you have small children!

The Dallas Fire Rescue recommends establishing a “kid-free zone” to ensure they do not get burned or injured.

From 2012 to 2016, 86% of home fire deaths involved a portable space heater, and the leading cause of ignition for those fire deaths was improperly placed equipment close to flammable materials. Between the years of 2009 and 2013, heating equipment caused an estimated 56,000 house fires, 470 deaths, and 1,490 injuries.

Just remember: if you do use a space heater, make sure it is properly placed and turned off when you head to bed!

2) Clean out your fireplace and chimney!

A warm, cozy fire in the fireplace and a Netflix binge seems to be on our to-do list, especially as many of us are staying home due to the pandemic; however, if not used properly, your fireplace could spark a serious fire that could damage or destroy your home.

Chimney fires occur when buildup ignites around the vent hole of the fireplace. Wood-burning fireplaces are much more likely to spark a fire, as compared to gas-burning fireplaces. You can reduce buildup in your vent and chimney by proper annual cleaning.

It is also important not to overload your fireplace. Some evenings are much colder than others, but a bigger fire in your fireplace is not necessarily the safest option. While it may be the warmest option, it is best to burn consistently throughout a length period of a time, not a bonfire!

Also – when you head to bed, make sure the fire is properly put out.

From 2009 to 2013, there were 17,910 house fires involving a fireplace or chimney resulting in a total of 30 deaths and 90 injuries.

“We recommend having your chimneys cleaned and inspected by a qualified professional,” says Jason Evans with the Dallas Fire Rescue.

Enjoy that fireplace, but make sure it is cleaned and ready to go before you ignite!

3) Keep an eye on the holiday décor!

Holiday décor, such as Christmas trees and candles, are family traditions in many of our homes. They brighten up our homes as we welcome close friends and family to celebrate special moments. But, don’t let the décor ruin your holidays – take extra precaution to ensure the safety of your family and home.

Firefighters across the United States responded to nearly 800 house fires related to holiday décor, excluding Christmas trees. In nearly half of those fires, the décor is too close to the heating source, such as an electrical wire or candle.

Christmas tree fires account for hundreds of house fires each year. Half of those fires involved electrical wiring or a heating source too close to the tree.

DID YOU KNOW: It only takes around 10-15 seconds for a small spark to fully ignite a dry Christmas tree?

A safer option would be a fake Christmas tree. These trees are less flammable since they do not require typical maintenance and water. But, just because your tree is fake doesn’t mean there is no risk. Make sure your tree is placed away from electrical outlets, your wiring is secure, and heating sources are kept at least three feet away from the tree.

4) Fry your meal – not your house!

If your family is like mine, there is no get together without a big meal. Food is an integral part of our family traditions. Cooking is one of the leading causes of house fires, many of which occur during the holiday and winter months.

Whatever you are cooking – whether it be a big bird or a big pie – make sure you do not leave the food unattended. If you must leave the kitchen, turn off cooking sources to ensure a fire does not spark.

Keep flammable materials away from the cooking sources. Heating pads, plastic utensils, and paper goods can quickly ignite and spark a fire.

If you are frying a turkey in a deep fryer, please do so properly! Do not overload the fryer with too much cooking oil. When the oil is hot and ready to go, place the turkey into the fryer very slowly. If you do it too fast, the oil could splash out and spark a large fire.

And do not forget – if a grease fire sparks in your kitchen, either cut off oxygen flow (place a lid on the pan) or use powder to put the fire out. DO NOT throw water onto a grease fire!

5) Do not overload your electrical lines!

Electrical fires were the second leading cause of house fires between 2013 – 2016, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Electrical failures and malfunctions account for the highest number of fire deaths and damage. 40% of electrical-caused fires occur during the winter months.

If your home has older electrical infrastructure, it is important to watch the amount of electricity flowing through the lines. A fire may spark when high amounts of electricity are flowing through the lines. Do not overpower the outlets with high usage items, such as space heaters and holiday décor. If your outlets spark or smoke, call 9-1-1 immediately and evacuate the house.

Folks, it all boils down to common sense. Make sure you are using your heating and cooking elements properly to avoid a major disaster. We don’t want to feature your house fire on DFW Scanner!

Thanks for reading this first #FastFive article. If you have a tip for a future #FastFive, let us know!