Staying Warm, Keeping Safe


As temperatures drop, even in the moderate climate of South Carolina, families turn on the heat. Sometimes their effort to keep things toasty warm leads to a tragic fire and loss of valued property, if not lives. Some heat sources are particularly dangerous, e.g., space heaters and wood stoves.

According to the United States Fire Administration (USFA), more than one-third of Americans use fireplaces, wood stoves and other fuel-fired appliances as primary heat sources in their homes. They can be an economical source of auxiliary heat as well.

Statistics show that heating is the second leading cause of all residential fires (cooking is first). The risk is increased for those heating with wood and solid fuels. In total, an estimated average of 50,100 heating fires in residential buildings occur in the United States each year, according to the USFA, resulting in an annual average of approximately 150 deaths, 575 injuries, and $326 million in property loss.

One such fire occurred on December 17 in a Columbia residence. The fire started in a wood burning stove in the basement and spread up through the home. Fortunately there were no injuries, but damages are estimated at $130,000. In this instance, the homeowners were alerted by a smoke detector. “Incidents like this show how critical it is for homeowners to have properly installed and working smoke detectors,” Columbia Fire Chief Aubrey D. Jenkins said in an article in The State.
Installing smoke detectors (and carbon monoxide detectors) are critical steps you can take to ensure your family’s safety, especially during the colder months when you are using a heat source such as a wood stove. Here are others:

  • Use fire-resistant materials on walls around wood stoves.
  • Make sure there is adequate clearance between the stove and walls.
  • Use only seasoned hardwood. Soft, moist wood accelerates creosote buildup. In pellet stoves, burn only dry, seasoned wood pellets.
  • Never burn cardboard boxes, trash or debris in your fireplace or wood stove.
  • Put a gate in front of the stove, especially if you have children or elderly ones in the home who could fall against it.
  • Store wood at least three feet away from the woodstove in case embers or sparks fly out that could catch the woodpile on fire.
  • Dispose of ashes in a metal bucket. Take it outside, but don’t leave it on a wood deck – there could be hot embers under the cold ashes.
  • Don’t dump the ashes where they could catch leaves or brush on fire.

The EPA has other information about best burning practices that could keep you, your family and friends safe this winter. You can find it here:

For more about fire safety, read our blog written for National Fire Prevention Month:

When the wind is howling and you’re wishing for balmy breezes, curl up under an afghan with a cup of hot cocoa. Crank the heat up if you have to, but please don’t take a chance that your crackling fire could end in disaster.

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