Beaufort County officials: Home-fire risk continues after holidays

astice@islandpacket.comDecember 26, 2012 

  • Get rid of your Christmas tree while cutting your risk of home fires at the following locations taking part in the Grinding of the Greens, from Dec. 26 to Jan. 12. Mulching will take place from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Jan. 12. Mulch will be given away free to anyone who brings a container.

    On Hilton Head Island:

    • Coligny Beach parking lot
    • U.S. 278 at Squire Pope Road

    In Bluffton:

    • Ulmer Road near the county tennis courts

    On Lady's Island:

    • Sea Island Parkway next to Huddle House
    • Pleasant Point Road at the Family Tree Christmas Tree Farm

    In Beaufort:

    • The Beaufort Plaza near the Plaza Theaters

    In Port Royal:

    • The Naval Heritage Park off of Ribaut Road.

Bluffton firefighters continued to search Wednesday for the origin of a Spring Island house fire that erupted Christmas night, forcing them to knock out walls and part of the ceiling to extinguish it.

A fire had been set in the home's fireplace, but the blaze was burning between the walls and floorboards all the way up to the attic.

A firefighter stayed overnight at the home to make sure the blaze didn't reignite. Burning embers trapped in crevices inside a home can smolder for a long time before setting fire to something else, said Bluffton Township Fire District spokesman Capt. Randy Hunter.

During colder months, the risk of a fire starting because of a malfunctioning chimney increases. Area firefighters recommend having fireplaces and chimneys inspected when they issue holiday safety advisories.

"If you start to see some deterioration in your fireplace, like cracks or missing pieces, make sure to have it looked at," Hunter said. "Cracks or flaws in the chimney itself allow heat and embers to get outside of where they're supposed to be."

Though smoke damage to the Spring Island home was minimal, a substantial amount of damage was done to the home because firefighters had to cut into walls and ceilings to find the source of the "deep-seated" blaze, Hunter said.

Lee Levesque of the Lady's Island-St. Helena Fire District said both firefighters and chimney manufacturers recommend an annual cleaning and inspection, before residents start setting fires in the fireplace. Besides hidden embers, soot buildup can also reignite if it gets hot enough.

Before the holidays, local fire districts plan campaigns to warn about the increased risk of fires from cooking, seasonal light displays and heat sources such as candles or space heaters. But even though Christmas is over, the risk of home fires continues.

Firefighters recommend tossing out Christmas lights with frayed or cracked wires and storing other holiday decorations in a safe, dry place away from heat sources. Dried-out Christmas trees shouldn't be thrown away in the woods, which could increase the potential for wild fires, Levesque said. He recommends recycling trees at one of seven locations in the county.

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