This winter, stay warm … and safe

Nov. 14, 2019

A blanket over a space heater catches fire

There’s no getting around it: Winter weather has definitely set in, and you’ve had the heat on for at least a couple of weeks. Staying warm is good, whether it’s from a furnace, fire in the fireplace, or space heater. But the very things that keep us cozy in the cold can endanger our lives. When the temperature drops, the number of fires spikes.

Fortunately, like most fires, wintertime fires are mostly preventable if you just take a few precautions on the front end. For example, you should have a professional check your furnace annually to make sure everything is working properly. Ditto with the fireplace, and don’t forget the chimney.

Space heaters, on the other hand, require your attention in the moment. Never leave them unattended or sleep with them on. Plug them directly into the wall; don’t use an extension cord, as they draw a lot of power. And always abide by the three-foot rule: Keep them three feet from furniture, rugs, towels – anything combustible. That means you shouldn’t use them to dry clothing or towels.

Kitchens get chilly too, but never use your oven as a heat source. Save it for cooking only.

Sometimes, despite precautions, fires can start. If that happens, keep in mind that you likely have about three to four minutes to escape. Modern homes and furnishings go up in flames incredibly quickly.

So how can you make sure you have the maximum amount of time possible to get out? A working smoke alarm can give you the critical seconds you need to escape safely. But a smoke alarm can only save your life if it works. That means you need to test your smoke alarms monthly and replace its batteries twice a year.

And while you’re at it, test your carbon monoxide alarms as well. Fuel-burning appliances can malfunction and pump deadly levels of CO into your home, where the odorless and colorless gas has nowhere to go because all the doors and windows are sealed tight against the cold.

In 2018, 42 percent of fire deaths in Minnesota happened during only four months: January, February, November and December. And you know what those months all had in common: They were all cold.

So by all means, crank up the thermostat or cozy up by the fire – just make sure you’ve taken the proper precautions so that you and your family are not only warm, but safe, too.