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In frigid temps, be careful with home space heaters

Firefighters are likely looking forward to what the new year brings, but maybe not so much January.

That's because January often delivers a nasty spike in fires in people's homes. In addition to fires caused by usual suspects like cigarettes left unattended or food left to burn on stoves, there's often an uptick in fires that result from people trying to stay warm.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, more house fires break out during winter, with January being a peak month; and Lawton Fire Marshal Mark Mitchell said he's found that to be true locally. Heating equipment not installed, maintained or operated properly is often the prime culprit, he said. People who try to save money by skipping annual inspections or maintenance of furnaces, fireplaces or other equipment may end up paying a much higher price.

"They have to be maintained and serviced regularly by a licensed contractor," Mitchell said. "Fireplaces and chimneys must be properly cleaned and inspected."

The fire marshal cautioned against using ovens or kitchen stoves as heat sources. They're not meant for that purpose, he said, and all too often they end up catching things like dish towels or the undersides of wooden cabinets on fire.

Mitchell advised that people who like space heaters should use them only as secondary, temporary heat sources. They should be very careful to set them up only well away from anything combustible, and neither kids nor pets should be allowed to get close enough to knock them over. If extension cords have to be used to plug in such appliances  or any other appliances  people should take care to make sure they're not overloaded or covered over with rugs or anything else that might cause them to overheat and cause a fire.

Mitchell pointed out, too, that candles that might be used to add ambience during holidays or on cold winter days can quickly ignite fires if they're set up in the wrong place.

"Definitely do not leave candles unattended," he said.

People should further safeguard themselves and their homes by installing and maintaining smoke detectors. Mitchell said a working smoke detector can mean the difference between a minor inconvenience and a major catastrophe.

"I can tell you that after 25 years as a firefighter, I've seen too many fatalities, and probably 98 percent of them could have been prevented if they'd have had just one working smoke detector," he said.

Ideally, Mitchell said, homes should have a smoke detector in every bedroom and in every common hallway on every floor. People who live in newer homes with fire alarms hard-wired into electrical systems should still have battery-powered detectors that would function if the power goes out. The fire department recommends that people check monthly to ensure smoke detectors are working properly, and they should replace old batteries with fresh ones annually. The detectors themselves should be replaced at least every 10 years. People also should invest in good carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers.

The Lawton Constitution

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