“We don't really see an increase in fires around the holiday season, we just see an increase in the potential for it,” Raison said. “We have the occasional Christmas tree that someone bought and didn't keep watered. Then they keep it too close to a heat source, or maybe you have a short in your Christmas lights. Everyone tries to make their Christmas lights last as long as they can, so they start cutting and splicing, and trying to patch them back together, and you create a potential for a problem there.”
During the winter season, stories occasionally appear in the news about people whose power has been turned off, leaving them to try to heat with an alternative source, which can bring an inherent danger to their lives and the lives of their family members.
“That's always a concern for us, especially a few years ago during the ice storm. You had people using whatever they could to heat with,” Raison said. “And that can cause a really dangerous situation, especially if you're using something that is not really designed for that purpose.
“We have people using their gas grills inside their house to create heat. It's not designed for that, and obviously, there's a potential for carbon monoxide poisoning there, too, depending on how much you use it.”
Raison said space heaters also are a concern for firefighters.
He said it is not because they aren't safe, because most heating units today are Underwriters Laboratories-listed, and they contain safety precautions right on the unit itself.
“If you knock them over, they're supposed to kick off, but if you have some older ones, there is always the potential for them not to have those safety features,” Raison said. “But usually, the problem we see with space heaters is people put them to close to something like a bed, a couch or other furniture that will ignite, or they put it too close to the curtains or something like that.”
Raison said space heaters should be at least three feet from anything that has the potential to catch fire.
“And then you always have the concern that it will get knocked over by kids, by pets or something like that,” he said. “U.L. has done a lot of good things. One of the things they've done is testing that has brought about some of the safety features that they have on them now, but anything has the potential to not perform the way it's supposed to. So could a safety switch not work? Yes, so the more caution you exercise, the better.”
Raison said it probably is safe to leave your house to go out and shop or attend church services and leave your wall-mounted heater on.
“The wall-mounted gas heaters that have thermostats on them, and are mounted according to manufacturer's recommendations, shouldn't be a problem,” he said. “They're going to kick on and kick off much like your furnace does, and if they're installed properly, that shouldn't be a problem for you. But the space heaters that just sit around the floor, those are the ones you can't leave on if you go out.”
Raison said one of the biggest fire hazards in the home is candles.
“They're so popular now. Everybody has candles, and they like the smell. People make their own candles, and they make candles with four or five wicks, because the more wicks you have, the more heat, and the more of the scent goes into the room,” he said. “But also, the more wicks you have, the more heat, the more potential you have for fire.”
Raison said many people don't notice it, but there are air currents in the home, whether it's from a drafty window or a furnace blowing through the ductwork. He said it creates more of an opportunity to catch something combustible on fire before it's noticed.
He said it also is a bad idea to have candles all over the house, because there is a tendency to think they all have been blown out and to forget some of them.
Raison said chimney fires are another cause for concern in the winter.
“People who don't clean their chimney will get a build-up,” he said. “Any time you have a fire, any time you see smoke, what you're seeing is unburned particles of whatever is burning. In the instance of a fireplace, you're talking about unburned wood particles that are going up your chimney, and they'll collect on the walls of the chimney.”
Raison said this frequently is caused by the burning of green wood that is not well-seasoned, because it doesn't burn as hot, producing more particulates.
“As the smoke goes up the chimney, it cools, and so it settles on the wall of the chimney, and if you don't keep that cleaned off, then you create that potential for a chimney fire.”
Raison also addressed Christmas lighting, urging citizens to only use outside wiring outside, and not to utilize inside wiring on outside lighting.
Raison said fire prevention in the winter is the same as any other time of year, using quality safe products, and common sense prevailing.
FRANK LEWIS can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 232.