Firefighters offer reminder of winter's fire risk

astice@islandpacket.comJanuary 1, 2012 

Even after holiday light displays have been put away and dried-out Christmas trees recycled, the risk of fires during the winter months doesn't go away.

Local fire departments and the National Fire Protection Association are putting out the message that as temperatures begin to fall, the chances of fatal home fires rise.

Nationally, December, January and February are the top months for home fire deaths, according to the NFPA.

Locally, firefighters are busiest with active fires during the summer months, when seasonal visitors swell the population.

However, during the Lowcountry's traditionally mild winters, firefighters answer more service calls involving smoke in buildings or sparking outlets, according to Dan Byrne, a spokesman for the Burton Fire District.

One reason for that increase might be that residents are not as familiar with heating equipment that could malfunction as temperatures drop, according to Deputy Chief Ed Boring of the Town of Hilton Head Fire & Rescue Division.

Fire departments across the Lowcountry are promoting safety messages as a way to prepare residents for the season ahead.

This year, those efforts included live demonstrations of cooking fires and burning Christmas trees.

"Because locally we push a lot of safety over the holidays, I think that contributes to the reduction in fires," Byrne said. "Those public service announcements make people a little more aware about dealing with candles, heat sources and alternative types of electricity."

The public education campaign also emphasizes the "if it has heat, 3 feet" slogan, which urges that combustibles be kept 3 feet from heat sources such as space heaters, appliances, fire places and candles, all of which are used more during the winter. Officials say a fire sparked by a toaster destroyed a Burton mobile home Christmas Day.

Heating equipment and chimneys should be cleaned and inspected every year by a professional, said Sandy Stroud, who handles public education for the Bluffton Township Fire District.

Soot and ashes that seem harmless can sometimes reignite, Stroud said. Ashes should be kept in a metal container at a safe distance from the home.

Boring of the Hilton Head division advised residents to make sure cords on space heaters are in good condition.

"Winter lasts a lot longer and is a lot colder up (north), so people there are also better prepared," Boring said.

Follow reporter Allison Stice at twitter.com/lcblotter.

Related content:

Mobile home destroyed in Christmas Day fire, Dec. 26, 2011

Burton home destroyed by fire believed to have started in toaster, Dec. 22, 2011

Suspicious fire destroys Hardeeville-area businesses, church, Dec. 21, 2011

Officials warn of increased risk of holiday cooking fires on Thanksgiving, Nov. 23, 2011

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