For many Oklahomans, fuel-burning appliances such as fireplaces and wood stoves are popular and reliable ways to chase away the winter chill. However, using these types of appliances does come with some risks, so it is important to use them as safely as possible.

According to National Fire Protection Association statistics, half of all reported home fires occur in December, January and February. Fireplaces, wood stoves and other fuel-burning appliances represent fire hazards, but taking a few easy precautions can cut your risk.

As a basic safety measure, it is recommended to keep fuel-burning appliances in good working order. They should be inspected and cleaned every fall by a certified professional.

Chimneys should be free of obstructions and cracks. Carefully inspect wood stoves for cracks or bulges, including checking the legs, hinges and door seals. Also, throughout the cold season, use a wire brush to regularly clean inside the stove.

Burning the right type of fuel also will cut the risk of a fire sparking up. In wood-burning stoves, use only dry, seasoned hardwood, while pellet stoves only take dry, seasoned wood pellets.

As tempting as a large roaring fire might be on an especially cold evening, build small fires that burn completely and generate less smoke.

Start by placing logs at the back of the fireplace or on a supporting grate. Do not overload the fireplace. Make sure the damper is open before you light the fire and leave it open until the ashes have cooled. This allows gases to escape.

Avoid burning cardboard, trash, or other debris in the fireplace or wood stove. Do not use flammable liquids to light or relight the fire.

When fireplaces and wood stoves are in use, children and pets, as well as decorations, curtains and other flammable materials, should be kept at least 3 feet away. Also, fireplace screens should cover the entire width of the fireplace and be sturdy enough to block any logs that begin to roll.

No fire should be left unattended. Before you leave the house or go to bed, douse the flames and ashes with water.

After the ashes are cooled completely, put them in a metal container with a tight-fitting lid and store the container at least 10 feet away from the house or other buildings.

Finally, as an additional precaution, install smoke detectors on every level of your house. Since all fireplaces can generate carbon monoxide, also install CO alarms.

Working smoke detectors and CO alarms will significantly increase your family’s chances of surviving a fire. Test them regularly and change the batteries at least once a year. Also, take the time to create a family escape plan and practice it regularly so everyone knows what to do and where to go in case of a fire or other emergency.

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