By CARL SMITH
Starkville Fire Department officials say they are preparing for increased fire calls associated with cooler temperatures and the increase in home heating usage.
Starkville Fire Chief Rodger Mann and Fire Marshal Mark McCurdy both say the department experiences an upswing in the volume of fire-related calls as more and more homes begin using heating implements during winter.
Two types of structure fires — winter and holiday — occur over this part of the year, McCurdy said.
One of the main winter fire causes, McCurdy said, is the improper use of kitchen appliances to heat homes. Kitchen appliances such as stoves and ovens, he says, should only be used the way they were intended. Homeowners should also use caution with proper heating elements to ensure accidents do not occur.
“The rule of thumb is nothing combustible within 3 feet of any heating source,” McCurdy said. “And when I say ‘combustible,’ I mean anything — beds, couches, curtains.”
Those who choose to use portable heating sources, such as kerosene heaters, should always use them on a safe, level surface away from combustible materials, McCurdy said. Heaters which use kerosene or other liquids as fuel should be filled outside, not inside a dwelling.
“I would tell anyone who buys a heater like that to make sure they look for one with an emergency shutoff or tip-over sensor,” he said. “A portable heater that has tipped over becomes an even larger danger if it does not have that feature.”
Homeowners or renters with wood-burning stoves or fireplaces, McCurdy said, should always ensure they have a well-ventilated and properly cleaned exhaust to the outside of the building. Tar buildup is a common cause of chimney fires.
“A good way to think about it is this: Always have your chimney professionally cleaned before the first cold snap of each winter,” McCurdy said. “By doing so, you’re ready — safe — for winter.”
McCurdy said fireplaces should also have protective screens to ensure embers do not ignite nearby carpet or other flammable material.
The number of structure fires caused by cigarettes also rises in the winter, McCurdy said, because many smokers choose to smoke inside rather than stand in the cold.
Those who choose to smoke inside should always have a proper ash tray or other place to dispose of cigarettes, he said. Never throw a lit cigarette or cigar into a garbage can, McCurdy said, and do not smoke in bed.
As for holiday fires, McCurdy says those develop from two primary avenues: cooking and holiday decorations.
“During holidays when families are gathering, one of the last things people are usually thinking about is fire safety. It’s something you have to keep in mind,” McCurdy said. “Never leave an active stove unattended, keep combustible items — paper towels, oven mitts and dish rags — away from heat sources and never use extension cords for cooking appliances.
“Also, be careful of the clothing your wearing as your cooking,” he added. “You don’t want to wear loose, hanging clothing that can come in contact with hot surfaces.”
Residents should also exercise caution as they transition from Thanksgiving to Christmas and place Christmas trees in their homes. As Christmas quickly approaches, more and more Starkville residents will buy Christmas trees and decorate their homes with lights and candles. These decorations, McCurdy said, can pose dangers if proper care and maintenance is not used.
“The biggest problem with holidays is when people overload electrical sockets for Christmas lights and other decorations,” he said. “If you’re going to have decorations which use electricity, always plug them into a surge protector instead of a simple, multi-plug device. By using a multi-plug without a tripping device, you’re overloading your wall sockets and creating a hazard.”
Those who choose to buy real Christmas trees should always keep it watered and its bristles away from any heating elements, while McCurdy said, people who purchase artificial trees should seek those made out of flame retardant material.
“Flame-retardant, artificial trees take a much hotter flame to burn and also take considerably longer to ignite,” he said. “Also, be sure to check strands of Christmas lights to make sure they’re not frayed and the internal wiring is not exposed.”
Residents should always have functioning smoke detectors — in common areas, on each level of the house and inside and outside of every bedroom — a small fire extinguisher and an exit plan in case of emergencies. Working smoke detectors allow for occupants to safely exit a home and quickly notify the fire department.
“Our firefighters have about a three- or four-minute response time in the city from our stations to the scene, but fires basically double in size every single minute they burn,” McCurdy said.