Avoid winter's fire hazards

December 6, 2012 - Home fires are more prevalent during the winter than any other season, and your home's best protection against fire is you. Holiday decorations, electrical services interrupted by winter storms, and incorrect uses of alternative heating devices contribute to increased fire risk at home. Here are the five most frequent sources of winter house fires and the simple ways to ensure you don't experience them.

1. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Nat King Cole wasn't doing anyone favors by popularizing such a fire safety risk. Always use a glass or metal screen in front of your fireplace. Open hearths may be great for seeing the Yule log blazing before you, but if sparks ignite a nearby carpet or chair, you'll be yelling fa-la-la instead of singing it.

2. I like my electrical cords like my barbeque ribs: spare. The winter months bring about an influx of electricity use. It's important to minimize the number of electrical cords you use simultaneously. Electric blankets, space heaters and holiday lights are all tethered to the wall, sucking up electricity. Even if you use a surge protector, be sure to power down the heating devices you aren't using when you're home and all of the devices when you're away. Don't tuck electric blankets and heating pads underneath other sheets, don't jam holiday lights nine to a socket, and avoid running cords under rugs or carpets. Heat can build up or cord damage can go unnoticed.

3. Ovens and stoves are heat sources for food, not for you. These appliances are inefficient sources of heat and extreme fire hazards. In addition, open oven doors can create toxic fumes.

4. Candles are not your friends. More than 15,000 annual candle fires are caused by abandoned flames, placement within the vicinity of flammable objects, or use in low-light areas. Invest in some battery-powered candles and stop carrying your torch into the basement every time you blow a fuse.

5. The key word in space heaters is "space." Keep anything that can catch fire at least 3 feet away from your space heaters and alternative heat sources. And while you're at it, make sure your heaters have "tip switches." These ensure that a heater turns off automatically if it tips over.

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