Take safety steps today

Published 10:30 pm Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A fire on Tuesday morning at a home on Gates Road offers hard evidence of just how dangerous something as simple as home heating can be, and it reminds homeowners and renters alike how important it is that they take special care to make their homes safe during the winter.

Two people were displaced when the fire destroyed their home and a pickup truck, according to city officials, who said firefighters were called to the scene at about 8 a.m. on a report that a wood heater had exploded. By the time firefighters arrived on the scene, the home and vehicle were completely engulfed in flames. The people living in the home had escaped without injury. They were lucky to be alive.

According to the Virginia Department of Fire Programs, an estimated 108,400 residential building fires occur in the United States each winter, resulting in 945 deaths, 3,825 injuries and $1.7 billion in property loss.

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The cause of Tuesday’s fire is still under investigation, but the incident reminds us all of the dangers inherent in some of the things we take for granted. Space heaters, fireplaces and wood stoves all warm our homes, but it should never be taken lightly that they invite fire right into our midst, as well, and therefore should be treated with the utmost respect and care. They should be checked at least annually and before the first use of the winter. And they should be kept well away from flammable things such as furniture and curtains. Since they produce carbon monoxide, if they or the chimney they might use are not functioning correctly, carbon monoxide detectors should be installed in the homes where they are used, as well.

Also important are smoke detectors, which have saved many lives through the years. They should be installed in kitchens, in bedrooms, in hallways outside of sleeping areas and on every level of the house, according to the National Fire Prevention Association. Make sure you have them installed and that they always have fresh batteries. And finally, make sure you have a plan to get out of your house if there is a fire.

A little advance planning and some extra care will go far toward keeping you safe AND comfortable this winter. Don’t let the next lesson you learn about fire safety be the one you learn when things go bad in your own home.