Experts Offer Safety Tips Following Major Fires

POUND RIDGE, N.Y. – Pound Ridge fire officials are cautioning homeowners to follow a checklist of safety tips this winter in order to keep their families and homes safe following two major fires in the area recently.

A Christmas Day fire in Stamford, Conn. took the lives of three children and their grandparents and investigators determined it was caused by improperly disposed fireplace ashes.

On Tuesday in Lewisboro, a fire destroyed the home of Katonah-Lewisboro School Board member Dr. Peter Treyz. Investigators said the cause was likely electrical in nature. The fire apparently was started by the washer/dryer while the washing machine was in use. 

The Treyz family was fortunate in that the fire started in the middle of the day and they were able to escape unharmed. But, as the Stamford fire showed, that’s not always the case. Fire safety experts said that, this time of year, with wood stoves and fireplaces in full swing, homeowners should be particularly careful.

“More than one-third of Americans use fireplaces, wood stoves and other fuel-fired appliances as primary heat sources in their homes,” said Lt. James M. Dodge III of the Pound Ridge Fire Department. “Unfortunately, many people are unaware of the fire risks when heating with wood and solid fuels.”

Dodge said that heating fires account for 36 percent of residential home fires in rural areas every year. Often these fires are due to creosote buildup in chimneys and stovepipes. All home heating systems require regular maintenance to function safely and efficiently, fire officials said.

“Make sure fireplace fires are out or contained before you go to bed,” he said. “Don’t use a vacuum to vacuum up the coals. Put them in a metal container and then take them outside and leave them there in a safe spot where things like brush won’t catch on fire. I can’t stress enough about making sure the fire is out and the embers are disposed of properly.”

Dodge also says that Christmas trees should have been removed from the home by now.

“No matter how often you water them, Christmas trees dry out and are a fire hazard,” he said. “If they sit too long and then there’s a short or a bulb burns out, they can quickly devastate a house – in 30 seconds it’s gone.” Dodge points to this YouTube video as evidence of what can happen when a Christmas tree catches fire.

The lieutenant said to follow the United States Fire Administration (USFA) fire safety steps to prevent tragedy from striking:

Have your chimney or wood stove inspected and cleaned annually by a certified chimney specialist.

Clear the area around the hearth of debris, decorations and flammable materials. Leave glass doors open while burning a fire. Leaving the doors open ensures that the fire receives enough air to ensure complete combustion and keeps creosote from building up in the chimney.

Close glass doors when the fire is out to keep air from the chimney opening from getting into the room. Most glass fireplace doors have a metal mesh screen, which should be closed when the glass doors are open. This mesh screen helps keep embers from getting out of the fireplace area.

Always use a metal mesh screen with fireplaces that do not have a glass fireplace door.

Install stovepipe thermometers to help monitor flue temperatures.

Keep air inlets on wood stoves open, and never restrict air supply to fireplaces. Otherwise you may cause creosote buildup that could lead to a chimney fire.

Use fire-resistant materials on walls around wood stoves.

Use only seasoned hardwood. Soft, moist wood accelerates creosote buildup. Never burn cardboard boxes, trash or debris in your fireplace or wood stove.

Never leave a fire in the fireplace unattended. Extinguish the fire before going to bed or leaving the house.

Dodge notes that smoke detectors are of paramount importance. He cautions that the batteries should be changed twice a year and that the devices should be checked once a month to make sure they’re operating correctly. He also recommends that lint traps and vents for dryers be cleaned once a year.

“You’d be surprised how much the lint builds up, even with a filter,” he said. “They make a number of different brushes for cleaning a lint trap or you can call a company that cleans dryer vents professionally.”

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