Tips to prevent house fires

Although there have been no major structure fires in Westwood this winter, cold weather will persist for several more weeks; therefore, vigilance is still required.

A fire that ignites within the chimney or stovepipe is always a problem during winter months. According to Forest Duerksen, fire chief for the Westwood Fire Department, “These fires are caused by a buildup of unburned fuels, usually caused by inadequate cleaning, maintenance and the burning of unseasoned wood.”

To prevent these fires, clean your chimney or stove pipe once a year at a minimum, said John Hunter, fire chief for the Clear Creek Fire Department. Also, have your flue inspected annually by a professional.

Hunter added that unusual odors or the smell of smoke while burning a fire is a sign the flue needs to be cleaned. Also, difficulty starting a fire and getting it to continue burning are signs.

According to Duerksen, signs of a flue fire include the following:

  • A loud, crackling or popping noise from the chimney/flue (imagine the sound of a large bonfire).
  • A lot of dense, thick smoke coming into the fireplace or out of the top of the chimney.
  • Flames or things that are on fire (pieces of flaming creosote) coming from the top of the chimney.

A flue fire can spread to other parts of a house, such as the attic, causing structural damage. Westwood has had three flue fire callouts this winter, but none have extended into the home.

Electrical fires are also problematic. Most often these fires are caused by faulty electrical outlets and old, outdated appliances.

“Never use an appliance with a worn or frayed cord which can send heat onto combustible surfaces like floors, curtains, and rugs and start a fire,” warns Duerksen. “Running cords under rugs is another cause of electrical fire.”

Duerksen said these four warning signs indicate your home is in danger of an electrical fire:

  • Persisting burnt smell with no identifiable source.
  • Several discolored or charred outlets and switches.
  • Old, outdated wiring.

Combustible items placed too near a stove can ignite a fire, said Hunter. Also, electric heat lamps, which radiate heat, can start a fire if placed too close to a combustible object. Duerksen said Westwood residents frequently use these lamps to warm animals during the winter.

Proper disposal of ash from fireplaces and stoves is vitally important in the prevention of a house fire.

“We have had hot ash dumped in the alleys mixed in with yard waste, hot ash buckets set on decks or combustible material, ash emptied into a plastic or combustible container including trash cans or plastic buckets, that have caught fire and extended to the residence,” said Duerksen.

Steps for properly disposing of hot ash include the following:

  • Carefully empty the hot ashes into a metal container that can be closed tightly with a metal lid.
  • Douse the ashes with water and cover the lid securely.
  • Store the covered container in a safe place outside of your house and away from wind and ignitable or combustible items. Do not dispose of hot ashes in plastic, paper or cardboard.
  • Leave ashes in the container for several days to cool completely and once the ashes have cooled completely, place them in a plastic bag, and tie it securely. Dispose of it at the Lassen County solid waste transfer station.

In addition to taking the necessary steps to prevent a house fire, Hunter suggests taking the necessary steps to make sure you can respond safely if one should occur. This includes the purchase of a fire extinguisher and learning how to properly use it, and having working smoke alarms in the house.