Tribune-Courier News Editor
BENTON – Recent temperature dips have area residents moving the thermostat or digging in the closet for space heaters. With colder temperatures and the use of heating equipment comes the seasonal rise in structure fires. The number of sturcture fires typically increases about 40 percent around the county.
“Normally the biggest cause of our fires over the winter is electical,” said Benton City Fire Chief Harry Green. “We see a big increase [in calls]. Probably a 30 to 40 percent increase. It normally happens whenever we have our first real cold spell. People fire up the wood stoves or fireplaces, or drag out the heaters they haven’t used since last year.”
Green said taking a little time and checking things out before using the heat source could make the difference.
“Space heaters, make sure your core is in good shape, your plug ins” Green said. “If you’re using an extension cord make sure it’s the same size as the cord on the space heater. You don’t want to overload your cord and cause an electrical fire. Make sure it’s UL listed and has the tip-over control. If a child or a pet runs by and accidentally knocks it over, it will automotically turn off.”
With gas, electricity and other heating options costly, many home owners are chosing alternative heating options. Green said wood stove, pellet stove and fire place users should inspect their equipment before using.
“The best thing to do is make sure they’re in proper working order,” Green said. “Make sure the chimney has been cleaned and there’s no creosote built up.”
For heat pump users, Green recommends having the unit checked by a professional prior to usage.
But one of the most basic tools in fire safety remains the smoke alarm. It is recommended to have alarms on every floor and especially in rooms where fires are more likely to occur, such as with space heaters or in the kitchen. Daylight Savings Time will switch Nov. 6, which is commonly used as a reminder for homeowners to change batteries in smoke detectors.
Green said the Benton Fire Department would be returning to Benton Elementary School later this year for a fire safety presentation. The department regularly presents fifth graders with smoke alarms as part of its fire safety program.
According to information provided by the U.S. Fire Administration, home heating fires are the largest cause of structure fires in winter months. Year-round, cooking is attributed with the largest percent (about 25 percent).
“Every 90 seconds there’s a house fire in the United States,” Green said. “On the average, that’s 1.9 million sturcture fires per year. One person every two and a half hours dies in a house fire somewhere in the U.S. The majority of them can be prevented.”