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Tips to avoid fires in cold weather

As the weather turns colder, the number of house fires increase as more people rely on space heaters or overload extension cords.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, heating equipment is the leading cause of home fire deaths, and space heaters account for four out of five of those heating fire deaths. The winter months can also come with other fire hazards, as people put up live Christmas trees, light more candles and use their fireplaces.

There should be a three foot distance around space heaters and Pearl River County Fire Marshall Jonathan Head recommends plugging them directly into the wall instead of using an extension cord. If an extension cord has to be used, make sure it can support the wattage the space heater will use to operate.

“We often see where they may place the space heaters too close to flammable items and it may start a fire that way, or they use extension cords that are not made to support the amount of electricity going through them and they tend to overheat and start fires.”

Make sure not to overload extension cords with holiday decorations either. If someone is stapling lights to a surface, they need to make sure they do not staple into the wiring or extension cord. Check holiday lights for exterior damage before putting them up to make sure they are still safe to use.

“If they have any frays or pinched wiring, it just needs to be thrown out.”

Whether someone is putting up a simple string of lights or an elaborate light display, lit holiday decorations should have been tested by a recognized third party laboratory to ensure that they are safe. Most quality supplies and equipment include a logo on the outside of the packaging indicating they were tested by a third party laboratory for safety, said Head.

If a family uses a live Christmas tree, keep it well watered to prevent it from drying out, said Head, and keep it away from heat sources like fireplaces or heaters.

“Once the tree becomes dry, it needs to be quickly discarded,” he said.
Caution should also be used with other heat sources: fireplaces should be inspected annually before being used and candles should be used with caution.

Head recommends using battery operated candles in decorations. If regular candles are used, make sure they have a stable holder and cannot be knocked over. Keep candles away from flammable materials such as drapes or curtains.

Wood burning fireplaces should be cleaned and inspected annually before being used, because if they are not maintained flammable residue from burning wood can build up in the chimney and potentially start a house fire, said Head. Natural gas or propane fireplaces should also be inspected for leaks.

A working smoke alarm is an important part of fire safety. Smoke alarms that are older than 10 years should be replaced. Pearl River County residents can get a smoke detector installed for free in their homes by the Pearl River County Office of Emergency Services through a grant funded program. Any resident who needs a smoke detector through the program can call 601-795-3058 for more information.