If you’re heating your home with firewood, as so many New Englanders do, you should take some extra precautions to make sure you’re safe all winter. The US Fire Administration estimates that wood stoves are involved in more than 4,000 residential fires every year. Follow these tips on home fire safety to help prevent fires and to respond effectively if you do have a fire.
There are a lot of common sense practices that will help to reduce your risk of a heating related fire in your home.
Interior Fire Prevention
Here are a few tips to keep your home safer this winter.
- Keep all flammable materials, such as bedding, drapes or rugs, paper, clothing, etc a minimum of 3 feet from your stove or fireplace.
- Never leave wood burning stoves or fireplaces untended; make sure fireplace embers are extinguished before leaving the room.
- Keep children and pets away from your fires (both for their immediate safety and to prevent accidental fires).
- When buying a wood stove, consider models with extra safety features like insulated handles and good separation from the floor.
- If using a fireplace, always place a firescreen to protect your room from sparks when it’s in use.
Chimney and Flue Fire prevention
Did you know that approximately 87% of house fires are flue or chimney fires, according to the USFA? Though we are most viscerally concerned about fires that spill into our living rooms or kitchens, a chimney fire can be devastating. If it escapes the chimney, such a fire can catch the entire house on fire by catching the internal structure of the home on fire. This often means you aren’t even aware there’s a fire until it’s devastating your roof or another part of your house.
The best way to prevent a flue of chimney fire is to keep both as clean as possible. Annual chimney sweeping is a broadly recognized best practice, but is far from foolproof. There are also products designed to provide less thorough maintenance cleaning between your major cleanings, such as the Creosote Sweeping Log. This is not a replacement for annual cleanings, but can help to mitigate your risk between cleanings.
One way you can reduce the amount of creosote going through your flue and chimney in the first place is to only burn hardwood that is properly seasoned of kiln-dried. No firewood will produce zero creosote at typical temperatures, but properly dried wood burns at a safer temperature that minimizes creosote and keeps your chimney safer for longer.
Being Prepared For the Worst
If you do have a house fire, it’s paramount that you have a plan of action in place for dealing with it. This can be the difference between life and death in many cases. If you have a good plan and preparation, most deaths and injuries due to fire can be prevented.
Building codes around the country require smoke detectors to be installed in homes. However, it’s all too easy to leave a smoke detector in active service longer than its intended life span. Many of us don’t even realize that you’re supposed to change out your smoke detectors at least every 10 years. Especially these days with hardwired smoke detectors, this can be easily overlooked. Like everything else, smoke detectors wear out and parts fail. They can become less sensitive to smoke, too sensitive to be reasonable, or fail entirely when they get too old. In a similar vein, it’s important to test your smoke detectors monthly to make sure they’re still working properly.
Placement is also key. As a rule of thumb, you want your smoke detector at least 10 feet from your probably source of fire to reduce obnoxious false alarms that might tempt you to disable your smoke detector However, you also want to make sure there is a smoke detector no more than one room away from the potential fire hazard. If you have an open fireplace this is both even more important and even more potentially irritating. Just make sure you’ve unblocked your flue before you try to start a fire or you’ll have a very noisy and smokey evening
The go-to solution for small fires is a fire extinguisher. If hot coals spill onto your floor and start to smolder, or a spark from your fireplace catches furniture, having a fire extinguisher ready to hand can be a true life saver. However, if you bought your fire extinguisher when you built your home or, worse, your grandparents bought it when they bought the house, it’s probably no longer effective. Most fire extinguishers are good for 5 to 15 years and you may be able to get your fire extinguisher serviced to extend its useful life.
If your extinguisher fails, isn’t ready to hand, or you don’t have one, remember that it’s not the only option for smothering a fire. You can use a blanket or rug to smother a flame as long as it isn’t too large. If you soak the cloth with water first, this can be a very effective way to deal with a small fire that hasn’t gotten completely out of control. This is also a good way to deal with pets or people who have managed to catch fire. Smothering and surrounding a fire with wet cloth does a good job of putting the flames out and cooling any victims’ burns.
You should also teach your children the classic “stop, drop, and roll” routine. As simple as it seems, this simple, straightforward solution has saved many lives. Being coached on this protocol and practicing can help to entrain the reaction. Running around aimlessly can actually feed the fire more oxygen and cause more damage.
If you wake up to a burning home, you don’t have time to form a lot of rational, clever thoughts. Panic is the most common response to this situation. Coming up with a plan ahead of time, and simply executing it when the situation arises is much easier. For this reason it’s important to always have a comprehensive escape plan. Here are the hallmarks of a good escape plan.
- Plan at least two routes out of each room in the house
- Verify that all the doors and/or windows you might use are easy to access and open
- Have an escape option that doesn’t require taking the stairs for your second (or third) floor rooms. A fire ladder is ideal, but even a convenient place to jump to such as a sturdy bush with minimal injury is better than suffocating or burning.
- Agree upon a rendezvous point with your family so that even if you all take different routes out of the house, you can make sure everyone has made it out safely. This is especially helpful for informing firefighters if someone is still in the building or not.
Even a perfect plan is of little use if you and your family aren’t thoroughly familiar with it. The USFA suggests practicing your plan during daylight hours and night at least twice a year. This keeps it fresh in everyone’s mind and gives your family the best odds of survival. Another helpful practice is to have your family navigate rooms with their eyes closed, as visibility is extremely poor during fires. Being intimately familiar with the layout of your home can mean saving precious minutes and preventing grievous injury.
Have a Fire Safe
One thing you don’t want to be worrying about during a house fire is your documents, emergency fund, passports, and so on. You should always have a fire safe in your home with your most important documents, some alternate IDs (birth certificates, social security cards and passports). This preparation allows you to focus more of your attention on saving lives without distraction.
Enjoy Safe Fires With Our Help
All of us at Day Logging hope you have a safe and warm winter. If you want advice on low-creosote firewood that can improve the safety of your home heating, contact us at (207)625-8181.