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What you need to know to avoid a house fire and keep your family safe

ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. – Between the holidays and people warming up their house or apartment due to cold weather, this time of year can be a busy time for fire departments like Roanoke County Fire and Rescue.

The department’s community outreach coordinator Brian Clingenpeel spent Tuesday morning breaking down a few seasonal fire hazards and what you can do to keep everyone safe and prevent a fire.

Clingenpeel said even though the holidays are different this year due to the pandemic, you still want to be vigilant when it comes to fire safety.

According to the National Fire Prevention Association, Thanksgiving is the peak day for home cooking fires. Other days include Christmas, the day before Thanksgiving, Easter and Christmas Eve. Below are the top 10 safety tips the NFPA recommends.

  • Stay in the kitchen when you are cooking on the stovetop so you can keep an eye on the food.
  • Stay in the home when cooking your turkey, and check on it frequently.
  • Keep children away from the stove. The stove will be hot and kids should stay three feet away.
  • Make sure kids stay away from hot food and liquids. The steam or splash from vegetables, gravy or coffee could cause serious burns.
  • Keep knives out of the reach of children.
  • Be sure electric cords from an electric knife, coffee maker, plate warmer or mixer are not dangling off the counter within easy reach of a child.
  • Keep matches and utility lighters out of the reach of children — up high in a locked cabinet.
  • Never leave children alone in a room with a lit candle.
  • Keep the floor clear so you don’t trip over kids, toys, pocketbooks or bags.
  • Make sure your smoke alarms are working. Test them by pushing the test button.

If you do happen to leave the kitchen to talk to family or watch television Cligenpeel suggests keeping a spoon or spatula in your hand so you don’t forget there’s something on the stove.

Also, remember to check your smoke alarms, make sure they still work and change batteries if necessary. Along with that, have a fire escape plan and if you have guests during the holidays make sure they know too.

“Newer homes today burn much faster than homes did years ago because of a lot of the plastics and foams and the furniture and it just burns quickly and you need an early warning device and that early warning device is that smoke alarm,” said Cligenpeel.

If you do see grease popping out of your pan or skillet or a small grease fire starts Cligenpeel advises you cover the pan with a top from front to back as seen in the above video. He also says to cut off the stove and the small fire should go out, but do not add water. Water can make a grease fire worse.

Dried-out live cut Christmas trees can be a fire hazard. Remember to water your tree every day. Clingenpeel said artificial trees are safer because they have to meet specific guidelines to make sure it’s not flammable before it is sold.

Other holiday decorations could also be a fire hazard, for example, Christmas stockings depending on where you hang them.

“We see an increase of house fires usually in December, January, February those colder months. A lot of that is from home heating and we find that a lot of that comes from combustibles too close and that just means something that can burn was to close to the fireplace or the woodstove or the space heater,” said Clingenpeel.

He said holidays or not keep items that can burn at least three feet from the heat source like a fireplace or a heater. That’s the same rule you want to have in the kitchen.

Clingenpeel also recommends every home and apartment have a carbon monoxide detector. He said anything that burns can give off carbon monoxide; natural gas or wood. It’s an odorless, deadly gas and he said you need an alarm to try and detect it in your home.

For additional information on how to prevent winter fires, click here.


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