Fire Prevention In Your Home

December 11, 2015

Fire Prevention In Your Home

Last week I talked about fire hazards outside the home. This week I wanted to talk about a fire hazard inside. In 2014, almost 3,000 Americans died in residential fires and there were almost 16,000 fire-related injuries, according to statistics from the National Fire Protection Association.

The good news is, between 1977 and 2014, the number of structure fires dropped by 55% from almost 1.1 million to less than 500,000. However, this still resulted in an estimated $11.6 billion in direct property losses. Because of the risks associated with fires, it's important to understand and practice safety tips when using indoor fireplaces and woodburning stoves this winter.

Put a shield around the fireplace to prevent sparks from flying out and starting a fire. Glass grates, which enclose the fireplace entirely are the most effective. Wire mesh grates, although not 100% effective, stop most sparks. Also make sure the area surrounding the fireplace is clear of flammable items to guard against fire in case sparks escape the fireplace. The best hearths are made of non-combustible brick or linoleum.

Clean fireplaces, wood-burning heaters, stove pipes and chimneys annually. Ash or creosote build-up in the flue or pipes can catch fire if the build-up has accumulated over time and the fire temperature is hot. Reduce creosote by burning big, hot fires instead of small, smoky ones that lead to build-up.

There are artificial logs, fire bricks, or powdered chemicals you can burn in your fireplace to reduce creosote buildup. These are available at most home improvement, hardware, or farm supply stores. While these may help reduce some kinds of creosote, they do not take the place of an annual cleaning. Hire a chimney sweep or clean the chimney once a year with a big brush.

Choose wood types depending on the type of fire desired. If a fireplace is for aesthetic reasons, burn cottonwood, maple or elm, which create bright flames. If the fireplace is used for heat, burn harder, heavier woods such as oak and ash.

It is possible to bring insects into your home along with firewood, but this can be avoided. If wood is kept below 50 degrees, insects living in it will remain dormant. However, when taken indoors and allowed to warm up, insect activity resumes and they may emerge in the home. Emerging insects can emerge from the firewood and move around the rest of the house.

The best way to avoid an insect invasion is to store the wood outside in the cold until it's ready to be burned so insects don't have a chance to warm up and become active. Store wood away from the house and under a cover, such as in a woodshed, unheated garage, utility building or under a sheet of plastic or sheet metal roofing to keep it dry. Leave an air space between the wood and covering.

Do not spray firewood with pesticides. Storing wood outside until you are ready to use it will prevent insect problems indoors. If firewood insects do emerge indoors they are not likely to attack wood in the home. Simply vaccum them up.

Correctly operate your fireplace or wood-burning stove. Often, fires start when the residents are gone or asleep. To guard against this, adjust the air intake vents before leaving the fire place or stove alone. Don't leave wood-burning stoves alone unless it can be prepared for an amount of unsupervised time.

For more information on fireplace and wood stove safety, contact your local Nebraska Extension office.