House fires common in winter months: Area Firefighters give tips on how to best protect against the worst

Winter is the time of year when house fires occur more frequently. 
Gibson/Glascock County Fire Chief Michael May said during the winter months, some of the causes of fires are space heaters and electrical heaters, gas leaks and chimney fires. 
“Do not leave heaters plugged unattended. Do not overload circuits. If you smell gas (rotten egg smell), leave the residence immediately. Do not turn anything off as any little spark can ignite the gas. Have chimneys cleaned annually,” May said.
“Smoking materials are the leading cause of residential fire deaths in the United States. If you smoke, take precautions. Smoke outside; choose fire-safe cigarettes; never smoke in bed, when drowsy or medicated, or if anyone in the home is using oxygen,” he said.
The chief said items that can catch on fire should be kept at least 3 feet away from anything that gets hot such as space heaters.
“Turn portable heaters off when you leave the room or go to sleep and never leave a burning candle unattended, even for a minute. Install smoke alarms on every level of your home and outside every sleeping area (bedroom) and check them monthly. Also, install a carbon monoxide alarm in a central location outside each separate sleeping area. Keep matches and lighters up high, away from children, preferably in a locked cabinet,” May said, adding that every business and residence needs to have an escape plan that should be practiced a minimum of twice a year.
Work areas should stay free of waste paper, trash and other items that can easily catch fire.
“Check on your electrical cords. If a cord is damaged in any way, replace it. Try not to lay cords in places where they can be stepped on, as this will contribute to deterioration of the protective outside coating. Don’t overload your circuits. Turn off electrical appliances at the end of each day. Keep heat producing equipment away from anything that might burn. This includes copiers, coffee makers, computers, etc.,” May said.
The chief said if a fire occurs, leave the residence or business immediately, close the doors behind you and call 911.
“Get out and stay out,” he said and stressed not to re-enter the residence or business. May said 40 years ago, a person had 17 minutes to get out when a fire starts. Because of what is used to make the material inside the residence now, a person has 3 minutes.
Currently, there are no places in Glascock County someone without heat can go, May said.
“We do have emergency shelters in an event of a disaster through Red Cross,” he said.
Another risk with the cold weather is burns from bonfires. A little bit of extra precaution will also go a long way toward staying safe said Dr. Fred Mullins, president of Joseph M. Still Burn Centers, Inc. and the medical director of the Joseph M. Still Burn Center at Doctors Hospital in Augusta.
“Safety starts before the fire is lit,” Mullins said. “Always make sure your fire is at least 10 feet away from buildings or bushes that could catch fire. When you are ready to light the fire use precaution and never, ever use gasoline to help fuel the fire. That’s a recipe for an explosion. I have seen many very severe burns from fires that exploded after people added gasoline.”
 
Other fire safety tips include:
 
Use utensils with long handles to stay clear of the fire;
Utility lighters are not safe for children. Do not leave lighters outdoors where the elements may weaken or damage the plastic;
Always follow manufacturers’ instructions when operating a fire pit; 
Make sure to extinguish a fire before you leave; and,
Have a fire extinguisher nearby.
 
“Follow manufacturer instructions, and use extra precaution when using space heaters,” Mullins said and offered the following tips on use of portable heaters:
 
Keep heaters at least three feet away from anything that can burn, including papers, clothing and rugs;
Place the heater on a level surface away from walkways. Do not use them on cabinets, tables, or furniture, which can overheat and start a fire;
Keep children and pets away from the heater;
Avoid touching heater surfaces that may be hot and cause burns;
Plug electric heaters directly into a wall outlet. Avoid using extension cords;
Use a unit with a tip-over safety switch that will automatically shut the heater off if tipped over;
Never leave a portable heater unattended. Turn it off when you are going to sleep or leaving a room; and,
Ensure your smoke alarms are working properly.
 
“We’re offering these tips because we see many accidents that can be avoided, and want to remind people to take a few extra minutes to ensure their safety and the safety of their loved ones,” Mullins said.
 
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) warns people to be mindful of the dangers of frostbite and hypothermia.
It can be difficult to tell when frostbite is developing; because, the affected area is numb. It you start to lose feeling in your hands, toes or face, the CDC recommends you check for redness, white or grayish-yellow skin, and skin that feels unusually firm or waxy.
Frostbite can set in within 30 minutes. Hypothermia is when your body temperature drops below 95 degrees.
Symptoms to look for are uncontrollable shivering, confusion, memory loss and slurred speech.
If you start to see or feel any of these signs doctors urge you to get medical attention immediately.
Glascock County’s fire chief said for more tips or information one can search “fire safety tips and prevention” on the internet.