Keep Home Fire-Free in Fall and Winter

A few simple steps can keep your home and yard safe from
n By Kelly Savio Staff Writer

The dry season is over and the rains are due to arrive, but that doesn’t mean potential fire dangers have gone up in smoke. Winter poses a number of risks, which can be even more dangerous because they often go overlooked. When’s the last time, for instance, you had your chimney cleaned?

Here are some flare-up danger spots and tips on how to make sure you don’t get burned this winter.

Friendly Furnace

As the nights get colder it may be tempting to turn on the heater. But a heater that has been sitting unused all summer can also be a fire hazard when lit without first receiving proper attention.

“If the filter is dirty when you turn on the heat, you’re not getting air through the furnace, ” said Bob Baker, owner of B&B Heating in Gilroy. “Because it’s plugged, the furnace will overheat. Then, lint and stuff like that in the dirty filter can catch on fire.”

Some filters can be cleaned reused, but others need to be replaced, Baker said. Homeowners should learn what kind of filters they have and how to clean or replace them. The filters should be cleaned or changed twice during the heating season, he said, and if you aren’t sure how to do this, call a professional.

If the furnace is an older model, Baker said, a professional should check for cracks in the heating chamber of the furnace. These cracks can cause carbon monoxide to leak into a home and lead to carbon monoxide poisoning, which can be fatal.

Gas lines leading to heaters should also be checked, Baker said. Spray water mixed with dish soap onto all the pipe joints. If bubbles begin to appear, there is a leak, he said. Also, if you smell gas, call a professional immediately.

Finally, never store flammable liquids or combustible materials in front of or near a furnace.


If you burn wood in your fireplace, it needs to be cleaned every year, said Bill Garringer, fire chief of the Hollister Fire Department.

“We have several chimney fires every year, and sometimes these lead to roof fires or worse,” he said.

Before you build a cozy fire in the fireplace, it’s important to first clean the chimney, said Terry Bozzo, owner of A Clean Sweep Chimney Service in Gilroy.

“Soot and cobwebs up there can catch and start a fire,” he said. “If you have creosote built up in there, it can be really dangerous.”

Creosote is a tar-like substance made of materials that don’t burn in the fireplace, Bozzo said. It’s the stuff left over in the smoke that builds up in layers inside a chimney and is highly flammable.

Cleaning out a chimney is a fairly easy task, Bozzo said. Brush down the inside with a sturdy broom and put a brush down the flue, making sure to scrape off any residue. Then, vacuum out the chimney.

“It’s not a very hard job, but it’s very dirty,” Bozzo said.

Don’t be disappointed if the chimney sweep arrives at your door, though.

“I don’t know if it’s lucky to shake hands with us, and we don’t wear top hats when we work,” Bozzo said. He also does not sing or dance on rooftops a la “Mary Poppins.”

Odds and Ends

Leaves and pine needles in gutters and on roofs can be a fire danger if sparks from a chimney get too close, Garringer said. People with burn permits legally burning rubbish piles should also watch out for these leaves. They will act as fuel if an errant spark lands on the roof, he said.

Another hidden hazard is a kitchen oven that hasn’t been cleaned in a while.

“It seems that every Thanksgiving, we respond to a fire in an oven that is used to cook the holiday turkey,” Garringer said. “This is usually the result of prior grease buildup in the oven and the length of time a turkey cooks.”

An oven cooking at high temperatures for long periods of time is more prone to having a grease fire, he said.

“Make sure your oven is clean before you cook the holiday bird, or you might be dining out for the holiday,” he said.

One of the best things a homeowner can do to prevent fires during this season is to install new batteries in smoke detectors every fall, Garringer said. A good reminder is to change the batteries whenever you change the clock for daylight savings in the spring or for standard time in the fall, which took place last week.

Additionally, make sure everyone in your household knows what they’re supposed to do in case of a fire or other emergency.

“Every family should also develop an escape plan and hold a drill so the kids know where to go and meet outside if there is an emergency,” Garringer said.

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