Fire fatalities down, but safety should still be No. 1

The Office of the State Fire Marshal recently reported that fire fatalities in Washington were down 25 percent in 2007.

While this is obviously good news, even one death is too many and more can be done to prevent home fires with simple steps such as changing the batteries in your smoke alarms, blowing out candles before you leave the room, keeping combustibles 36 inches away from heat sources and always having a family escape plan. These are just a few of the many safety tips that save lives.

While anytime of the year can be deadly when it comes to house fires, winter is especially deadly with cold temperatures outside and families doing their best to stay warm and keep their energy bills down. Home heating is among the leading causes of fire fatalities in Washington state, according to the Office of the State Fire Marshal. So with the cold temperatures continuing to stick around for at least another month or two, here are a few helpful wintertime tips from the Office of the State Fire Marshal to help keep your family safe.

Proper maintenance and an annual inspection of heat pumps, furnaces, space heaters, wood and coal stoves, fireplaces, and chimney and chimney connections by qualified specialists can help prevent fires and save lives.

• Space heaters — When using portable heaters, do not place them where it is possible for small children to get burned. Keep portable heaters out of hallways and room entrances. Avoid the use of extension cords with electric heaters. Always turn off portable space heaters before leaving the room or going to bed. Use only portable heaters with a tip switch that will turn the heater off immediately if knocked over.

• Wood-burning appliances, fireplaces and pellet stoves — Do not burn trash in the wood stove or fireplace. Burn only well-seasoned hardwoods. Be sure the fire you build fits your fireplace or stove; don’t overload it. Be sure wood or pellet stoves are properly installed. Keep combustible materials 36 inches from the fireplace, stove and chimney.

Keep the area clean. Store stacked wood or pellets outdoors. Always use a fireplace screen to prevent sparks or burning wood from leaving the fireplace and starting a fire. Never leave a fire unattended.

• Chimneys — A dirty, blocked or damaged chimney may cause improper venting of smoke up the flue and can also cause a chimney fire. Excessive creosote accumulation is the leading cause of chimney fires. An annual inspection by a certified chimney sweep can prevent fires and carbon monoxide poisoning.

• Ashes — Excessive ash accumulation prevents adequate air circulation needed for combustion. Keep wood stoves and fireplaces free of excess ash buildup. When removing ashes, use a metal container with a tight-fitting cover and cool in an outside location away from structures.