Make your home safer during Fire Prevention Week
This week – Oct. 9-15 – is the 100th annual commemoration of Fire Prevention Week. It is always this week in October to commemorate the great losses of the Great Chicago Fire which destroyed that city Oct. 8-10, 1871.
While none were quite as big as the Chicago fire, within just a few years, many U.S. cities also had huge blazes that ripped through their downtown cores.
In 1889, Seattle’s Great Fire gobbled up much of the burgeoning city’s downtown. That same year the Pacific Northwest experienced huge, historic fires also burning in Spokane, Ellensburg, Cheney and Coeur d’ Alene!
Even closer to home in Grays Harbor, it was just a few years later – on Oct. 16, 1903, – that Aberdeen’s Great Fire roared through the downtown, devouring some 140 structures, made from the plentiful lumber of the nearby forests.
As all the cities rebuilt, the importance of good building codes and fire prevention education emerged from the ashes.
In our last week’s column, we talked with the chiefs of the Aberdeen and Hoquiam fire departments. Today, we rely on them again to help us put together some specific tips on preventing fire in your home.
Working smoke alarms save lives.
The best way to fight fires is before they even start. The second-best way is to catch them as early as possible.
It’s critical that each household makes a plan of how everyone will get out quickly in case of fire. Include a special meeting spot as a part of the plan.
In addition, test the batteries of your smoke alarms monthly, replacing the batteries every six months and installing new smoke alarms when they are 10 years old.
Don’t let the heat source burn you
Colder weather statistically coincides with more home fires. This increase comes primarily from the need for constant heat.
During the late fall and winter, many houses, especially those having inadequate insulation and expensive sources of heat, are supplemented with alternative heat sources.
If you plan to use your fireplace or wood-burning stove, one thing you can do now is schedule someone to clean your chimney, advises, Dave Golding, Aberdeen Fire Department’s interim chief.
“Homeowners with wood burning appliances should make sure that their chimneys are clean prior to this winter,” he said. “Chimney fires are common and can spread from the chimney into a house quickly.”
However, you may need to do an internet search to find a chimney service that serves the Grays Harbor area.
Other supplemental heat sources people sometimes use include box heaters on long, skinny cords, or fires in an old trash burner connected to an even older mid-wall chimney. While both of these examples are extreme hazards, they are not the only ones you need to be aware of.
If you require additional heat this winter it’s important to follow these home heating safety tips:
Do not use the kitchen oven to heat your home. In addition to being a fire hazard it can be a burn hazard to small children.
Space heaters need their space! Keep heaters at least 3 feet away from anything combustible and don’t run them on an extension cord.
Make sure alternative heaters have “tip switches.” These tip switches are designed to automatically turn off the heater in the event they tip over.
Remember to keep all combustible liquids away from heat sources.
Do not use combustible fuel type heaters that do not have an exhaust vent to the outside.
Make sure wood stoves are properly installed and at least 3 feet away from combustible materials. Ensure they have the proper floor support, adequate ventilation and a clean chimney.
Use a glass or metal screen in front of your fireplace to prevent sparks from igniting carpets, furniture or other combustible items.
If you have an old mid-wall chimney, do not use it! Still found in some of the older housing stock in Grays Harbor, you can recognize them by looking for a six-inch hole in the wall and a sloped wall at the bottom. They have been the source of many house fires on the Harbor over the years.
In addition to those heating concerns, here are a few more safety tips for you and your home to avoid fire:
Have plenty of flashlights and extra batteries on hand in case of a power outage.
Avoid using candles for emergency lighting.
In case of power failure, plan to use alternative cooking devices according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Never use open flames or grills indoors, including in the garage.
Stay alert when cooking in general. Don’t leave the house if something is cooking in the oven, and don’t leave the room, if you are cooking something on the stove.
For those who feel the need to stock disaster supplies, remember that it is extremely dangerous to stockpile any liquid fuels such as gasoline, kerosene or lantern fluid in the house or garage. An out building is much safer.