Today is the first day of winter. Already this week the temperature has dropped below freezing twice. Some of the coldest weather of the year will occur during the next three months. With cold weather comes an increase in the number of fires due to people trying to stay warm. Here are some simple fire safety tips for cold weather:
Keep anything that can burn, such as clothing, furniture, mattresses, paper products and the like, at least three feet away from any type of heat source such as furnaces, space heaters, fireplaces, stoves and water heaters.
Furnaces (including natural gas/propane or electric) that have not been used for the last several months will have a build up of dust and dirt on the heating elements. When the furnace is used for the first time, this dirt and dust will burn off, causing a burning smell, a very light haze or white smoke. This is not harmful and is common. This is just the residue burning off the elements and it may take several minutes and maybe three or four uses before it all burns away. If the smoke is a dark grey or black, and the furnace makes rumbling noises, you should leave the house immediately and call 9-1-1 from a safe location to notify the fire department.
If you are using a fireplace or stove that burns wood, discard the ashes properly by placing them in a bucket of water and letting them soak for a few hours before putting them in the trash. Ashes can retain heat for several days and have caused damage to homes because they were discarded in the trash.
When using the fireplace or wood burning stove, make sure the damper is open to allow smoke and gases to escape up the chimney. The damper must be open at all times when the fireplace or wood burning stove is in operation.
With freezing temperatures, water pipes may freeze. If a pipe freezes, do not use a torch or any type of flame to thaw the pipe. The sudden increase in temperature will cause the ice to expand quickly and explode.
Do not use extension cords with electric space heaters. Extension cords can overheat and the heat from the extension cord can start combustible items on fire. Electric space heaters should be unplugged when not in use and if you leave the home.
Barbecues should not be used as heating devices, but they have been found in a number of Las Vegas homes in the past. Although they give off heat, they also produce lethal amounts of carbon monoxide gas that can overcome occupants inside a building with no warning.
Have furnaces checked by a qualified technician and change the air filters to the furnace once every thirty days. If they clog with dirt and dust, the furnace will pull fresh air down the chimney, which is also full of carbon monoxide gas, which is deadly.
Do not let your car run in the garage to heat up. After you start the car, make sure the garage door is open and move the car out as soon as you can. Even with the garage door open, lethal levels of carbon monoxide from the exhaust pipe can seep into the home.
Never run an electric generator or any other fossil fuel appliance in the home, including the garage. These devices produce deadly carbon monoxide gas.
Do not use the oven on the stove for heating. This is very inefficient and releases deadly carbon monoxide into the home.
Be aware of any moisture on the roadways, especially at night. Water from lawn sprinklers on the road at night can freeze, causing the roadway or sidewalks to be icy. Remember that bridges and underpasses freeze faster than regular road surfaces. Even the smallest amount of moisture can cause the road surface to be hazardous.
Lastly, make sure you have properly working smoke alarms and a carbon monoxide alarm in your home for protection. Practice fire drills in the home at least once every six months. In the event of a fire, escape as quickly as you can, meet at a safe place outside away from the building and call 9-1-1 for help.