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Stay safe in cold weather

The beginning of astronomical winter arrived more than a month ago, but it took until this week for the real, prolonged, bitter cold to put a freeze on Hampton Roads.

With highs near freezing, wind chill below freezing and two inches of snow this week, it’s a safe bet many folks were putting on layers, turning up the thermostats, stoking the fires, and maybe even pulling out the space heaters. People with fewer resources may also have turned to less conventional, and more dangerous, methods of heating their living space.

Unfortunately, home heating is the second leading cause of home fires and home fire injuries (after unattended cooking), and the third leading cause of home fire deaths. Fire departments respond to nearly 50,000 fires every year across the United States involving heating equipment.

The National Fire Prevention Association has this list of safety tips to help avoid fires caused by heating equipment:

  • Keep anything that can burn at least three feet away from heating equipment, like the furnace, fireplace, wood stove or portable space heater.
  • Have a three-foot “kid-free zone” around open fires and space heaters.
  • Never use your oven to heat your home.
  • Have a qualified professional install stationary space heating equipment, water heaters or central heating equipment according to the local codes and manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Have heating equipment and chimneys cleaned and inspected every year by a qualified professional.
  • Remember to turn portable heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed.

4Always use the right kind of fuel, specified by the manufacturer, for fuel burning space heaters.

  • Make sure the fireplace has a sturdy screen to stop sparks from flying into the room. Ashes should be cool before putting them in a metal container. Keep the container a safe distance away from your home.
  • Test smoke alarms at least once a month — they won’t prevent a fire by themselves, but they can help you escape a fire in time.