As you throw extra blankets on the bed, prepare for ghosts and goblins, and watch the leaves transform from green to gold, be sure you don't neglect fireplaces, wood stoves, and space heaters.

The United States has one of the highest fire death and injury rates in the world, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Fire is the second leading cause of accidental death in the home with 4,000 fatalities a year. More than 500,000 residential fires are serious enough to be reported to fire departments. Property losses exceed $4 billion annually.

Although there has been a decrease in fires associated with supplemental heaters, some 120,000 residential fires still occur annually because of these heaters - about 22 percent of all residential fires. These fires kill more than 600 people and thousands more suffer contact burn injuries and hundreds of carbon monoxide poisonings.

One of the first things that should be on your fire safety to-do list is to install smoke alarms on every level of your home, including the basement. It is estimated that more than 40 percent of residential fires and three-fifths of residential fatalities occur in homes with no smoke alarms, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

When fire breaks out, the smoke alarm, functioning as an early warning system, reduces the risk of death by nearly 50 percent. Alarms, which now cost as little as $10, are most people's first line of defense against fire. Part of the reason is because most home fires begin between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., when most families are asleep.

Improper installation, maintenance or use is the cause of most of these accidents. By following some simple tips you'll help ensure your family and home are safe.

Fireplaces And Woodstoves

  • Have your chimneys and vents inspected annually. The chief enemy is creosote, an unavoidable byproduct of wood-burning stoves and fireplaces. It builds up and can ultimately cause a chimney fire if more than 1/4 of an inch builds up, according to the Hearth Products Association.
  • If you have an older, uncertified woodstove, or use your fireplace or stove frequently, it will need to be cleaned more often than once a year.
  • Use only seasoned hardwood. Softer, moister wood accelerates creosote buildup, is less efficient, ignites slower and smokes more.
  • Use only the appropriate fuels. NEVER use gasoline to start a wood fire.
  • Always use a fireplace screen.
  • Don't burn newspaper in your fireplace. It can burn too hot and cause a chimney fire.
  • Soak hot ashes in water and place them in a metal container outside.
  • Place logs at the rear of the fireplace on an adequate supporting grate.
  • Never overload the fireplace.
  • Use a code-specified or listed floor protector for wood stoves. It should extend 18 inches beyond the stove on all sides. This will reduce the possibility of the floor being ignited.
  • If you have any questions or concerns, contact local fire department officials.

Other Heaters

  • Be sure all heaters -- kerosene, gas space, electrical -- are installed and used as directed by the manufacturers' instructions.
  • Space heaters should be placed on a firm, flat surface.
  • Make sure space heaters are away from children and pets -- many space heater fires are caused by kids and animals knocking over such appliances.
  • Make sure chairs, curtains, walls - anything combustible - are at least three feet away from the heater.
  • Never use heaters to dry garments.
  • Don't use extension cords with heaters.
  • Again, if you have any questions or concerns, contact your local fire department.

If a chimney fire does occur, call the fire department immediately and make sure everyone is out of the house. If conditions permit, close the dampers or primary air intake controls to limit incoming air. Open the door to allow a 10-pound dry chemical fire extinguisher to be placed inside. If possible, try to hose down the roof and watch all combustible surfaces near the chimney.

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