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Published: Wednesday, 12/6/2000

Christmas lights, increased heating rekindle concern about fire danger


Winter and the holidays are fast approaching, and that means residents will be firing up their furnaces and hanging their Christmas lights.

With the hustle and bustle of the season, some might forget to keep safety in mind.

Toledo fire officials said the winter months pose a greater fire threat because of the use of heating devices such as kerosene and space heaters, fireplaces, and wood stoves, and the use of lights and extension cords for holiday decorations.

“A lot of times, people think [a fire] can't happen to them, and it can happen to their house. Most things are preventable,” said Capt. Carla Stachura of the fire prevention bureau.

Authorities said practicing fire safety and survival should be as common for families as remembering to lock doors. A few important measures include putting together a plan to get out of the house during a fire and checking smoke detectors.

“Many people install smoke detectors and forget about them, which can be a fatal mistake,” fire Chief Mike Bell said. “When a fire breaks out, a working smoke detector functioning as an early warning device reduces the risk of dying by nearly 50 per cent.

“Simply buying a smoke detector is not enough, proper installation and maintenance are vital,” the chief said.

In addition to protecting themselves, residents should check their homes.

“There are a lot of accidental fires caused by inattention to overloading circuits. With the demands of this day and age, circuits cannot handle the demand for electric heaters and extension cords,” said Lt. Craig Beck, of the fire investigation bureau.

Authorities recommend cleaning furnaces and keeping items away from space heaters. Outlets should not be overloaded and proper-sized extension cords should be used for decorations.

Holiday lights should be checked for frayed wires, candles should be monitored, and children and pets should be supervised.

In the last two years, two children 5 or younger have died in house fires, including Justin Porter, 5, of 8191/2 West Delaware Ave., in September.

Captain Stachura said that nationally, more than 80 per cent of fire deaths occur in the home and most often claim the lives of the young and the elderly, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

In Toledo this year, 898 structure fires have occurred, resulting in four deaths and 40 injuries. Of the four deaths, one appeared to be caused by the improper fueling of a kerosene heater. A space heater may have contributed to another death while cigarette smoking appears to have been a factor in the other two deaths, she said. These figures, which were compiled from January to the end of October, are lower than last year's totals.

In 1999, a total of 1,115 structure fires resulted in six deaths and 55 injuries. In the six deaths, all of the fires appeared to be caused by cigarette smoking. Alcohol was a contributing factor in five of the six blazes, Captain Stachura said.

Toledo residents who cannot afford smoke detectors can receive a free one by calling the Toledo Fire Prevention Smoke Detector Hotline.

Several house fires have caused significant damage this fall.

An electrical problem sparked a fire on Florite Drive Saturday and a fire on Prospect Avenue Monday may have started in wires.

The owner of the Prospect Avenue home did not reinstall smoke detectors after removing them for maintenance work, fire authorities said.

The cause of a second fire Monday on Homewood Avenue is still undetermined but may be ruled accidental.

The owner was remodeling the structure and had a gas generator in an enclosed area plugged into several kerosene heaters, authorities said.

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