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Firefighters warn of winter fire dangers

While residents stay warm indoors for the winter, firefighters are warning of the many fire dangers that could be inside their homes.

According to the National Fire Protections Association, more fires occur in January through March than any other period of the year, with additional combustibles and heating sources cited as the most common causes.

As the area weathers frigid temperatures, Altoona Assistant Fire Chief Michael Hawksworth said that using an open flame is an obvious fire hazard, citing common mistakes of people using torches to warm frozen pipes or use a stove or stovetop to heat the house.

“Never, under any circumstances, use an open flame to heat your house,” Hawksworth said.

Altoona Assistant Fire Inspector Justin Smithmyer said some people mistakenly use their stove as an alternative heating source.

While it may appear to be safe, he said residents run a great risk of being exposed to carbon monoxide.

“It’s simply not a safe option because a stove cannot be controlled with something like a true thermostat,” Smithmyer said. “If someone uses a gas appliance with an open flame and the flame goes out, they could be in serious danger of carbon monoxide poisoning.”

Firefighters also discouraged the usage of kerosene heaters, and they said that while space heaters could be a safe alternative, they have to be used correctly.

Hawksworth said to never plug a space heater into a power strip or extension cord, and the heater should be plugged directly into the outlet.

Only one heating source should ever be plugged into a single outlet, the NFPA stated.

Echoing his counterpart, Smithmyer said space heaters should have a 3-foot clearance from all sides, and the heater should not have any exposed coils.

Fire department officials said residents should also ensure exterior furnace exhaust vents are unobstructed from snow.

If snow is covering the vent, dangerous carbon monoxide will not be able to escape the home.

“You run a real risk of being exposed to carbon monoxide if not,” Hawksworth said.

Smithmyer said many individuals will also place or store items against heating units in the home, such as furnaces, burners or stoves.

A 36-inch buffer zone should be kept around any heating source, he said, adding that the buffer will ensure there “aren’t any combustibles near the furnace.”

Firefighters recommend monthly testing of smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms, and they said they also encourage residents to keep their sidewalks and porches clear of snow to avoid slip hazards.

“We just want everyone to stay safe this winter,” Smithmyer said.

And it’s time to get rid of cut Christmas trees.

Smithmyer said that while Christmas trees always present a hazard, they become growingly more dangerous the longer they stay in the home, especially if the tree is never watered.

The longer the tree is out of the ground, the easier it can catch fire. And dried sap on the tree can also cause fires to burn faster and hotter.

“The number of Christmas tree-related fires increase after New Year’s because they’ve been out of the ground and dry up very quickly,” Smithmyer said. “Christmas trees act as a very good and rich fuel source. They burn very quickly and extremely hot, and they can catch the rest of the room on fire very quickly. It’s time to get those trees removed from the home.”

Mirror Staff Writer Calem Illig is at 814-946-7535.

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