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Winter Fire Safety Tips

Winter Fire Safety Tips to Protect Your Family & Home

By Liberty Mutual

Winter means a lot of things: snow days, sledding, hot cocoa, holiday gift-giving. It also means, more than in any other season during the year in America, residential building fires. Every year in the United States, winter residential building fires result in an estimated average 3,825 injuries and $1.78 billion in property loss, according to the The United States Fire Administration (USFA). Research also shows that fires in one- and two-family dwellings account for a whopping 67 percent of all winter home fires, and such fires occur mainly in the early evening hours, peaking from 5 to 8 pm.

So how do you keep your family safe during those months you want to stay inside the most? Start by following these winter fire safety tips:

Fireplaces & Wood Stoves. Of course, if you live in a cold-weather city or community, you have to find a way to heat your home during the tough winter months. A home fireplace or wood stove can bring an extra element of nostalgia, color and togetherness to your family's winter. But it's also highly important to exercise caution when you get a good fire crackling at the homestead. Have your home's chimney or flue inspected by a certified professional at least once every year, always use a protective screen in front of open fireplaces, and keep combustible materials at least three feet away from fireplaces or wood stoves.

Additionally, you should completely extinguish fires before leaving your home or going to bed. Place ashes (which can remain hot for days) into a non-combustible container, and store the container outside and at least three feet away from combustible materials such as decks and wall siding.

Fire-Free Furnaces. Inspect your furnace for damage before using it for the first time every year. Always use a bonded, licensed and insured contractor to service, replace or install your gas or electric furnace. Exercise caution when extinguishing or relighting pilot lights on gas furnaces. And if you smell gas, turn off the furnace and immediately leave your home. From a safe place, call both the gas company and the fire department.

Portable Heaters. They're often referred to as "space heaters" and, according to National Fire Protection Association statistics, account for about one third of home heating fires and approximately 80 percent of the home heating fire deaths. Most of these fires are caused by owners not properly maintaining the portable heater, or the use of unsafe portable heaters. But rest assured there are several steps you can take to use portable heaters safely. Always keep the heater at least three feet from furniture, walls and anything that could ignite from the heat, and keep children and pets away from portable heaters at all times. Be sure to turn off portable heaters, unplug them if they plug into the wall and wait for them to cool before going to bed or leaving the room. You should also ensure portable heaters are positioned on a level surface, if they get knocked over easily, the heated part of the device could touch a flammable surface and spark an ignited fire (some portable heaters include sensors that cause the heater to shut off automatically if it tilts over). Finally, check electric portable heaters for cord damage, other damage and missing parts before and after each use.

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