The winter months are the time of year when fire departments start to see an uptick in calls for structure fires, according to local fire agencies. A man in Davis County was killed when a fire began in his Kaysville home last month.
“We probably see double the number structure fires in the winter than other times of the year,” said David Reed, a fire marshal for the Weber Fire District.
Reed explained that the uptick in house fires is mainly due to more ignition devices, like heaters and lights, being used more in homes. He said that fires started by heating units and overloaded circuits are unfortunately common around the holiday season.
One issue his department sees often is when electric space heaters are plugged into cheap power strips, drawing more power than the strip can handle. Oftentimes, the power strip melts due to the large amount of voltage, causing a fire to start.
“Space heaters should be 3 feet from anything,” said Kevin Brown, a fire marshal for the Ogden Fire Department. “Those things are a big cause of heating fires.”
That’s not to say that consumers shouldn’t use space heaters, but people should be aware of the potential fire hazards if they are not used properly. You should always plug in a space heater directly into an outlet, and ensure nothing that could catch fire is placed near the area that exudes heat.
Both Brown and Reed agreed that propane heaters, said to be a cause of at least one fire in Weber County so far this winter, should not be used inside homes.
Reed said that propane heaters have heating elements that will cause fires if they come into contact with the right material. Not to mention having a propane heater in a home puts people at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Brown said propane heaters should be used in more open areas, like for example in a garage with the door open.
If your family has its own version of Clark Griswold, you should know that plugging power strips into other power strips — a practice called daisy chaining — is very unsafe.
Brown said to only plug power strips into outlets, and residents should always be sure to turn off Christmas lights on your tree or outside before going to bed. It may seem rudimentary, but it’s the little things that could prevent a fire in your home.
“Unfortunately power strip fires are not all that uncommon,” Brown said.
Reed said that one of the best ways to prevent these types of electrical fires is to invest in sturdy, high-quality power strips that can handle higher power levels. When it comes to extension cords, he said the thicker the cord the better.
It’s not just space heaters and lights that have caused house fires around Northern Utah, Reed said, other heating mechanisms can cause fires if not properly maintained. Reed said wood burning fireplaces have caused flames when lit logs fall out when the fireplace door is left open.
Chimneys left unmaintained have also been known to ignite when buildup is left unchecked. Homeowners with chimneys should clean them at least once a year, and possibly more often depending how often they are used, Reed said.
In the event that something should happen in your home, everyone should be prepared and have a plan in place in the event of a fire.
Families should always plan to have two pre-determined ways to get out of a house in the event of a fire, Reed said. He added that even if one of the ways out could be jumping out a second-floor window, a sprained ankle is better than dying in a fire.
Reed also said that older homes often have electrical wiring that might not be able to hold up to current power demands. It’s also smart to have a fire extinguisher or two around your home in the event that you stumble upon something smoldering.
Another simple way to stay up to date and keep your home safe is to regularly check smoke detectors and carbon monoxide sensors. Brown suggested that everyone should regularly replace smoke detectors at a minimum of 10 years.
Brown added that Ogden residents can buy smoke detectors at a discount. For those interested, just go to the Ogden Municipal Building on Washington Boulevard and visit the information desk for more details. Those interested must provide proof of residency in Ogden, such as a recent utility bill.
It’s often the little things that can prevent the next fire, and keep you and your family warm and inside during the holiday season.