Heating horrors: Winter is a dangerous time for house fires

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TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) A large part of Dan Brizee’s life is fire.

He’s the owner of Brizee Heating in Twin Falls. A business that’s been around for nearly a century.

When people come in and buy a stove to heat their homes, he asks them a question. Would you drive across the country without servicing, or at least checking your car?

“The answer is no,” Brizee said. “So why would you put your family at risk with a wood burning appliance in the house and not have it serviced or maintained?”

It’s a question a lot of people ask themselves too late. According to the U.S. Fire Administration there were about 45,900 heating fires in residences between 2013 and 2015. A disproportionate amount of those could have happened in Idaho.

“Certainly, more of these types of fires occur in our state than most others,” said Knute Sandahl, the state fire marshal. “This is due to the abundance of natural fuel. Idaho has plenty of soft wood forests and the ability to harvest these through a permitting process.”

Sandahl said his office has investigated eight fires involving wood burning appliances in Idaho over the past two years. Most notably one at the Tamarack Resort in Donnelley, Idaho that killed four people. He says there are more than that though.

Fire departments are not required to forward reports to the state fire marshal office.

“Most fires involving wood burning stoves or fireplaces are extinguished and investigated at the local level,” Sandahl said. “Statewide, we can safely say that at least one-hundred of fires occur in Idaho annually.”

In the Magic Valley, wood and pellet stoves are a popular house-heating option.

“There’s a lot of homes in our district that are heated by either a pellet stove or a wood burning stove,” said Bob Bailey, the Wendell Fire Chief. “It’s cheap, it’s economical and it provides really good heat.”

Unfortunately Bailey and his firefighters will see fires originating from that heat source at least once a year.

“It’ll start in the stove, generally it goes into the chimney, from there it spreads to the rest of the structure,” Bailey said.

Sometimes they’ll contain it to a chimney or an attic. Sometimes it can be worse.

There are two main ways these fires can start. Either with installation or maintenance.

“Get in there with a wire brush, clean out the inside of it,” Bailey said.

Bailey said you should clean out the inside about once a month. He recommends you get the chimney cleaned once a year.

As far as installation goes, Brizee’s company handles a lot of that. Either someone will hire their team to install it, or he makes sure they leave the door knowing what to do.

“They need to talk to somebody that understands how all of the parts and pieces and systems go together to make the installation a safe installation,” Brizee said.

Some of the uncertainty can be filtered out in the permitting process. However, Brizee says to make sure you know what you’re doing if you install one yourself.

Which is a sticking point for the Jerome Fire Department as well. They say that the stoves, especially pellet stoves, can be dangerous in ways besides starting fires.

“Carbon monoxide is very dangerous,” said Sam Craig, an engineer with the Jerome Fire Department.

Criag says if a stove isn’t hooked up correctly it can fill up a room or house quickly with Carbon Monoxide. Which is why the Jerome Fire Department encourages people to use CO monitors. So far this year they’ve had about 12 CO alarm calls.

“Which is great,” Craig said. “Because then it lets the occupants know there’s something going on. It’s not venting properly so the fuels are coming inside.”

Craig said with CO monitors, like smoke detectors, it’s a good idea to change the batteries about twice a year to make sure they’re working. He recommends changing those around daylight savings time as a reminder.

Heating issues are the second leading cause of all residential building fires in the U.S. according to the US Fire Administration. Those peak in the winter months.

The State Fire Marshal’s office shares these tips with people to ensure they are heating their homes safely:

· Get an annual chimney check. Have chimneys inspected annually, and cleaned as necessary, by a qualified professional chimney service technician. This reduces the risk of fires and carbon monoxide poisonings due to creosote buildup or obstructions in the chimneys.
· Keep it clear. Keep tree branches and leaves at least 15 feet away from the top of the chimney.
· Install a chimney cap to keep debris and animals out of the chimney.
· Choose the right fuel. For burning firewood in wood stoves or fireplaces, choose well-seasoned wood that has been split for a minimum of six months - one year and stored in a covered and elevated location. Never burn Christmas trees or treated wood in your fireplace or wood stove.
· Build it right. Place firewood or firelogs at the rear of the fireplace on a supporting grate using the top-down method.
· Keep the hearth area clear. Combustible material too close to the fireplace, or to a wood stove, could easily catch fire. Keep furniture at least 3 feet away from the hearth.
· Use a fireplace screen. Use metal mesh or a screen in front of the fireplace to catch flying sparks that could ignite or burn holes in the carpet or flooring.
· Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Place detectors throughout the house and check batteries in the spring and fall. When you change your clocks for Daylight Savings Time, remember to check your batteries.
· Never leave a fire in a fireplace unattended. Before turning in for the evening, be sure that the fire is fully extinguished. Supervise children and pets closely around wood stoves and fireplaces.
· When cleaning out ash from the fireplace, or wood burning stove, place the ash in a metal can and cover it with a metal lid. Remove to the outside of the house and place it at least 10 feet from the house on dirt. NEVER place ashes in a cardboard or plastic containers. NEVER place containers on a deck or near anything that could burn.
· Use seasoned wood. All firewood contains water. Freshly cut wood can be up to 45% water, while well seasoned firewood generally has a 20-25% moisture content. Well seasoned firewood is easier to start, produces more heat, and burns cleaner. The important thing to remember is that the water must be

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