How We Relay
Cancer has touched all of us in some way. And we want to stop this disease in its tracks. We’ll spend the next few weeks fundraising for the American Cancer Society. Then, on the day of the event, we’ll honor the lives lost to cancer, celebrate survivors, and support the caregivers who so selflessly help others.
Together, we’ll be a part of making a difference in this important cause
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WHITE MOUNTAINS — There have been far too many chimney fires in Show Low, Pinetop-Lakeside and in county islands in the last month and local fire officials want to help keep as many residents as possible from suffering the same thing.
A meeting with Lakeside Fire Inspector Kirk Webb and Show Low Captain Brent Mix ended with a lot of advice and safety suggestions from both men that could go a long way towards minimizing the danger.
About 36 percent of winter residential fires between 2005-2007 were cooking caused and about 23 percent were heating caused, according to a 2010 Federal Emergency Management Agency report. In 108,400 winter fires between 2005-2007, 945 people died, 3,825 were injured and there was about $17 million in property damage. In 2008, there were 378,800 residential fires in the United States, in which 2,390 people died.
Statistics indicate that two-thirds of the people who die in residential fires are in homes that lack smoke detectors. In those with smoke detectors, about 80 percent get out alive.
Before getting into the meat of fire prevention, Webb and Mix pointed out that firefighters first try to save lives, second to save property and third to prevent further loss. They said the single most effective tool for saving lives is to have properly functioning smoke detectors in the home. The key to their effectiveness is to check batteries at least once a month and to replace batteries at least once a year.
In other words, do not rely on the tongue test when it comes to replacing batteries. Do it once a year no matter what. It was suggested that perhaps choosing a significant day like a birthday, anniversary or holiday might be a good way to remember.
In one of the more recent chimney fires in Show Low, the homeowner got out unscathed, but the smoke detector was not working because there was no battery in it. Had the woman not noticed the glow from the fire that had spread into her roof and gotten out, she might not have survived, according to Webb.
Mix and Webb said there are a combination of factors that have contributed to the recent uptick in chimney fires. One is that people may be burning unseasoned wood that emits a lot of creosote, as does pine wood whether seasoned or not.
Creosote is a sticky sap that comes from burning green firewood and attaches to chimney and stove pipe walls. If left too long, it can ignite, causing a fire that often makes its way into roofs and walls.
They said allowing green-cut firewood of any variety to season for at least a year is a good rule of thumb. Seasoned wood that is wet from exposure to water or snow is not an issue.
Carbon monoxide detectors can also save lives, but they too need to be in working order. Webb said smoke detectors should be placed up high because smoke and heat rise and carbon monoxide detectors should be placed low because it settles near floor level.
Leaving at least three feet clearance of anything (including starter paper, kindling and logs) around wood stoves and fireplaces can also reduce the risk of a fire.
Turning to the topic of installation and materials, it was made clear that while single wall piping will adequately vent smoke from a wood stove, it is better to use double wall and best to use triple wall so that the pipes will have a lower chance of getting hot enough to ignite loose insulation or other combustible materials that might be next to them.
It is not uncommon for rodents, birds and other wildlife to nest in attics next to stove pipes and/or chimneys because of the warmth they provide. Nesting could easily ignite, so it is suggested that at the very least attics be inspected once a year and chimneys and stove pipes professionally cleaned on the same schedule.
It is also important to make sure stove pipes are rated for solid fuel fires and not just exhaust. People will sometimes purchase fireplace inserts rated for solid fuels and place them in gas-fed fireplaces that are not rated for solid fuels. That can have disastrous consequences.
The two suggest people make sure inserts and the fireplaces they are put into are rated for solid fuels. Spark arrestors are a must as well, and flues need to be in proper working order and open.
It is best to use a licensed contractor for installations, retrofits or repairs, and the two add never hesitate ask to see a license. It would not be rude to ask for references.
Webb offered the story of a wood stove fire after which firefighters began inspecting the pipes that when barely touched fell to the floor. He said because they were so loose, embers were able to fall between the joints and start a fire.
He said he was not sure if it was poor installation or settling of the house that caused the leaks, but said that in either case a routine inspection might have prevented it.
Disposal of fireplace ashes has rules as well. Never place them in anything but a metal container and never set the container on anything like a wood back porch, patio or next to walls that could catch fire. It is best to place containers carrying ashes on a concrete, brick or stone pad, or bare earth that has at least three feet clearance from any combustibles. Douse the ashes with water for days in a row and make sure they are cold to the touch before spreading.
The good thing about spreading ashes after they are dead out is that they replenish the soil with vital nutrients.
Furnace rooms in homes with forced air heating should be kept clear of combustibles and not be used for storage. Ducts and filters should be routinely inspected and replaced or repaired as needed.
Residential sprinklers were brought up, and according to Webb and Mix, they are not all that expensive and retrofits are not very difficult.
Last but not least, it was emphasized that every household should have a fire escape plan that includes a meeting place. It is best to review and adjust the plan as needed, post it in a prominent location like on the refrigerator so everyone can see it and to have fire drills multiple times a year to be prepared for an emergency.
“It could be a family project,” Mix said.
“If you fail to plan, plan to fail,” Webb added.
The local firefighters said it is impossible to prevent fires altogether, but said following the simple rules they offer can drastically reduce the risk.