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Dont put yourself at risk of winter fire

Winter brings with it the opportunity to decorate in creative ways using candles, electric lights and the chance to finally start cozy fires in unused fireplaces.

The unfortunate consequence is that winter is also a prime time for fire-related injuries, property damage and even deaths. Trusted Choice agents and spokespeople offer tips that can help families prepare for fire risks and hazards that may come during the winter months.

Winter brings many risks for winter fires, says Madelyn Flannagan, Big I vice president of agent development, education and research. Taking some time to make sure your home is protected against a fire hazard can prevent thousands of dollars in damage, unnecessary headaches and potentially save lives.

Lighting and Flames

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, in 2008 alone, more than 3,000 people died in 2008 from fires and more than 16,000 were injured.

To help families and businesses have a good time and protect themselves against winter fire risks, Trusted Choice agents and the Big I offer the following tips to ensure a fire-safe home this winter:

Avoid using lit candles. If you do use them, make sure they are in stable holders and place them where they cannot be easily knocked down, out of the reach of children.

Never leave a home or room with candles burning.

Install a smoke alarm on every level of your home. Test the batteries every month and change them at least once a year.

Have your chimney, chimney vent and flue cleaned and inspected annually.

Never burn trash, painted or pressure-treated wood inside the home.

Never use gasoline or other alternative fuels in a kerosene heater.

Cooking is the leading cause of home fires. Never leave food cooking unattended and keep a fire extinguisher in your kitchen at all times.

Is your Christmas tree still up? A dry tree in the house is a kindling for a fire. A tree should never be placed close to a heat source, including a fireplace or a heat vent. The heat will dry out the tree, causing it to be more easily ignited by heat, flame or sparks. Keep fresh trees watered. When a Christmas tree becomes dry, promptly discard it. The best way to dispose of your tree is by taking it to a recycling center or having it picked up by a community pick-up service.

Inspect decorative lights each year for frayed wires, bare spots, gaps in the insulation, broken or cracked sockets, and excessive kinking or wear before putting them up. Inspect them again when you take them down. Do not leave lit decorative lights unattended and only use UL approved lighting.

Do not overload outlets. Connect strings of lights to an extension cord before plugging the cord into the outlet.

Never put tree branches or needles in a fireplace or wood-burning stove.

Check on older adults and help them inspect their homes. Older people are at higher risk of injury from fires and are also more likely to die in fires than those in other ages groups of fire-related injuries. &bsp;

Keeping Warm

There are more ways to keep warm than just using the fireplace. Here are a few suggestions:

Set the thermostat at 65 degrees or higher.

Never leave fireplaces, woodstoves or space heaters unattended. Always use extreme caution with auxiliary heat sources.

Speak with a trusted contractor about doing a winter survey on your home. You may want to install plastic coating over your windows and doors, a sump pump in your basement, storm windows or consider purchasing special padding or foam to prevent drafts around cracks where air can escape.

If a complete storm window upgrade is out of your price range, consider replacing old storm windows on just the northern exposure of your home where it is vulnerable to the cold.

Add extra insulation to attics, basements and crawl spaces. Ideally, the attic should be five to ten degrees warmer than the outside air.

Have the heating system serviced. Furnaces, boilers and chimneys should be serviced at least once a year to prevent fire and smoke damage.