Winter weather catalyst for increased house fires

Published 12:49 pm Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Blistering cold temperatures have many Polk County residents seeking a variety of methods to keep their homes warm this winter.

They also have local emergency responders stretched thin to cover call after call for house fires.

In just the past two weeks, two homes in Tryon were severely damaged by fire.

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Polk County EMS Director Sandra Halford said more fires tend to arise in the winter months because so many people do rely on wood or kerosene to heat their homes.

She said these methods can be safe modes of heating if maintained properly.

Most of it is just simple common sense things, Halford said. If you do heat with wood, make sure you clean out the flew of your chimney, check to make sure chords on electrical appliances arent frayed and dont leave heating devices unattended.

Tryon Fire Chief Joey Davis said chimney fires last year left a number of families homeless.

When you have tough economic times and people dont have a lot of money hiring a chimney sweep might not be particularly affordable and so they run out to the local hardware store to purchase chimney cleaners, which arent always reliable, he said.

Many times people also rely on portable heaters to keep rooms toasty.

Halford said people often overlook the need to be vigilant around space heaters. They leave them unattended, dont realize dogs have chewed on the wires, they leave them too close to furniture or other flammable items or they leave them on for too long.

Both emergency officials said there are a number of things people can do to prevent a fire in their own home.

Keep flashlights instead of candles on hand in the case of power outages.

If you do use candles, never leave them unattended.

Make sure smoke detectors work properly.

Do not refill kerosene heaters inside the residence.

Check to ensure no chords for electrical devices are frayed.

Make sure embers in ashes from chimneys are extinguished before dumping them.

Davis said its also important to be particularly mindful if you own exposed element heaters. With these heaters you can see the elements glowing, and they are particularly dangerous because items can easily brush to close to the elements and catch fire.

He said its also important to know that if you happen to use a drop chord on the device make sure the chord is rated for the device you are plugging through it.

If these chords are overloaded they can cause electrical malfunctions that might lead to fires.

Fire is not the only danger associated with heating your home. People also often forget to monitor their home for high levels of carbon monoxide, Halford said. Kerosene and propane heaters can cause carbon monoxide poisoning if a home is not well ventilated. &bsp;

Clay Ayers, Polk County Red Cross board chairman, said they have worked three fires already this winter, one of them unfortunately occurred during the Thanksgiving holidays.

Were here 24 hours a day to provide that service even if its 3 oclock in the morning like it was in Thanksgiving, Ayers said. We know it doesnt matter what time of day it is or what day of the week it is when someone is in need.

The Red Cross does work to provide clothing, shelter and food to families after a fire.

Ayers said the organization can typically house someone for up to three days in a hotel, which costs about $50 a night.

He said they also help to provide some prescription medicines when those are destroyed in a fire. &bsp;

Those who need assistance with heating bills can reach out to Thermal Belt Outreach Ministries, DSS, the Tryon Fire Department and the Sheriffs Office.

All of these agencies can assist in various ways with things like the payment of electric bills or purchase of fuel for heaters to keep people from relying on temporary and unsafe heating methods this winter.