October 27, 2021

With temperatures dropping, fire safety is more important than ever

Therese Apel

In 2020, dozens of people were displaced when the Hilltop Inn on the I-55 Frontage Road in Jackson burned in a blaze that started with a faulty space heater.

Resident Veranda Cole told reporters that she woke up to a wall of fire, rising from the heater, and she knew she had to get out. She and her children were safe, but they lost everything.

Each year as the temperatures fall, faulty space heaters and unsafe heating sources are the cause of hundreds of structure fires nationwide.

State Chief Deputy Fire Marshal Ricky Davis said now is the time for residents to check out their heat sources and make sure they’re functioning correctly, because by improperly heating your home, you’re putting yourself and your family at risk.

“Winter’s coming and it’s time for everyone to start preparing themselves for those cold days ahead,” Davis said. “All your heating devices, you need to get them out now and start checking them.”

Davis said it starts with your fire place. If you have one, it’s important to have the chimney looked at and cleaned by a professional chimney sweep.

“They can tell you if there are cracks or bad spots in the flu, and if there are you don’t want to use it,” he said. “They have the tools to go in and clean it out.”

It’s not unusual to see a house fire start when someone has used an oven as a heating source as well, fire officials said. Even if your home does not have central heat and air, cooking surfaces can be extremely dangerous when used to heat a building. The website of the Office of the Tenant Advocate states clearly, “Don’t even try.”

In addition to the dangers of the open heat source at such high heat, there are the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning when using certain kinds of ovens for heat sources.

Make certain that space heaters are in working order, Davis said. Don’t use them if the cords are exposed or frayed or damaged in any way, and make sure they are at least three feet from any flammable surface. This includes curtains, bedclothes, and furniture. Keep your space heater on the floor, safety officials said, and don’t leave it on unattended.

But the most important piece of fire safety, Davis said, is keeping a working smoke alarm. Check that it works once a month, check the battery once a year, and if the device is 10 years old or older, replace it.

“Please, please do not sleep without sleeping under a working smoke alarm,” Davis said.

If you are elderly or disabled, or otherwise unable to check on your smoke alarm or unable to tell if it’s working, you can contact your local fire department or emergency operations center for assistance.

Finally, Davis said, have a plan for escaping your home in case of a fire, and make sure your children know it better than you do.

“Talk to your kids, let them know what that (smoke alarm) sound is, have a plan, and go over that plan with your kids,” he said.

Teach your children that when they hear the smoke alarm or someone yelling, “Fire,” the best plan of action is to crawl beneath the smoke until they reach the nearest exit.

“And always if you do have a fire, get out and stay out. Never go back in to a burning home,” Davis said. “Once you get, out stay out and have a meeting place for when you get out.”

Resources for putting together a fire safety plan with your family are available at the Fire Marshal’s website.

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