The heat is on for fire safety as officials urge seasonal precautions
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety reported in 2020, 421 fires occurred in Minnesota because of heating equipment. Almost half of those — 197 — were caused by heating units like boilers and furnaces. Next in line, causing 192 fires were fireplaces and chimneys.
As temperatures drop and lakes area residents seek ways to stave off the cold, fire risk from space heaters, stoves, fireplaces and other heat sources becomes a threat to property and lives.
A fire last week in a Nisswa home — likely to have originated in the chimney — was an opportunity for Nisswa Fire Chief Shawn Bailey to remind residents of the importance of cleaning and checking chimneys before resuming use in the winter months.
The Nisswa Fire Department responded to the fire call on Clark Lake Road about 4:30 p.m. Nov. 19. Upon arrival, crews found the fire inside the home spreading, and while ensuring no one was inside, the wind fanned the flames, Bailey said.
Once the building was confirmed empty, the crew — consisting of more than two dozen firefighters from Nisswa, Pequot Lakes and Mission Township — fought to extinguish the fire. Also present were North Memorial Health Ambulance, the Nisswa Police Department and Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office.
"We believe it started with a chimney fire," he said. "Those are pretty common if people haven't cleaned their chimneys. That's what I recommend. Please get your chimney cleaned and checked every year, especially if you're using it for primary heat."
Furnaces, space heaters, wood stoves and candles are all common sources of wintertime fires as well. The Minnesota Department of Public Safety reported in 2020, 421 fires occurred in Minnesota because of heating equipment. Almost half of those — 197 — were caused by heating units like boilers and furnaces. Next in line, causing 192 fires were fireplaces and chimneys.
Fires are not inevitable, however. Precautions such as hiring a professional to check furnaces and fireplaces annually, ensuring items are not within 3 feet of space heaters and refraining from using the oven or stove as heating sources help to prevent dangerous and potentially life-threatening situations.
Despite taking precautions, homeowners may still experience a fire. The Department of Public Safety reports people inside a burning home typically have three to four minutes to escape because modern homes and furnishings can go up in flames quickly. A working smoke alarm improves the chances of safely exiting. Officials recommend testing alarms monthly and changing batteries twice a year.
Testing carbon monoxide alarms is a good idea as well, given fuel-burning appliances can malfunction and lead to deadly levels of the odorless, colorless gas.
Following are safety tips to keep in mind when using heating equipment.
Fire prevention tips
Place heating devices 3 feet away from combustibles, including paper, drapery, bedding and clothing.
Space heaters need constant watching and should be turned off before bedtime or before leaving the house.
Drying mittens or other combustibles over a space or portable heater is a fire hazard.
Make sure all cords are in good shape and checked for any frays/breaks in the insulation surrounding the wires.
Check the cord and outlet for overheating. If it feels hot, turn it off.
Liquid-fueled and gas-burning heaters
Any heating appliance with an open flame needs to be vented to outside to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
When using these types of heating devices, follow manufacturers' instructions and recommendations.
Cool units before refueling; this should take place outside of the structure. Fuel must be stored in a container approved by the fire department and clearly marked with the fuel name.
Follow manufacturers' recommendations for proper installation, use and maintenance.
Properly ventilate the stove. Other household venting appliances can diminish proper venting. Test all other appliances (bathroom fans, stovetop venting, HVAC units, etc.) to ensure they don’t interfere with venting.
Maintain clearances around stoves, flue pipes and floors according to manufacturers' recommendations.
Check all connections at the beginning of the heating season.
Fireplaces and wood-burning stoves
Chimneys need to be inspected by a professional sweep prior to the start of each heating season and periodically throughout the year.
Have chimneys cleaned if there is a buildup of creosote, which is a highly combustible chemical substance that forms when wood burns and builds up on the chimney wall.
Fireplace screens should be firmly in place while burning fires.
Burn only clean, well-seasoned, dry firewood in the fireplace.
Make sure home smoke detectors are installed and working.
Residential candle fires peak in December, and 2 out of every 5 home decoration fires are started by candles. Candles and open flames are the third-leading cause of Minnesota structure fires.
Choose flameless candles. Most offer the same flicker effect as real candles and come in scented varieties.
Keep traditional candles in a sturdy container that cannot be tipped over.
Extinguish candles before leaving the room or going to sleep.
Use flashlights — not candles — for emergency lighting if the power goes out.
Christmas tree safety
One of every 3 Christmas tree fires is caused by electrical problems, and Christmas tree fires are more likely to be fatal than other types of fires.
Holiday lights that show signs of fraying, bare wires or other wear should be thrown out.
Never block an exit with a Christmas tree.
Only use non-flammable decorations.
Keep trees away from heat vents and other heat sources.
Pick a tree stand that can hold the tree securely. The stand should hold enough water for two days.
Discard a tree when the needles are brittle or begin to fall off.
Sources: Homeland Security and Emergency Management division, Minnesota Department of Public Safety and Minnesota State Fire Marshal’s Office.