Fires in suburbs prompt winter safety tips: Check detectors, chimneys, vents, space heaters

  • Fire safety experts say working smoke detectors on every floor and in every bedroom are key to keeping safe every season.

    Fire safety experts say working smoke detectors on every floor and in every bedroom are key to keeping safe every season. Daily Herald file, 2008

  • Naperville Fire Department safety experts urge homeowners to clear snow from exterior vents during the winter to avoid a dangerous buildup of carbon monoxide inside the home.

    Naperville Fire Department safety experts urge homeowners to clear snow from exterior vents during the winter to avoid a dangerous buildup of carbon monoxide inside the home. Courtesy of the Naperville Fire Department

  • Space heaters should be newer models with automatic shut-off, and they should be plugged directly into outlets, not power strips or extension cords. Pictured here is Lasko's Bladeless Ceramic Heater with Remote Control.

    Space heaters should be newer models with automatic shut-off, and they should be plugged directly into outlets, not power strips or extension cords. Pictured here is Lasko's Bladeless Ceramic Heater with Remote Control. Courtesy of Home Depot

 
 
Posted1/7/2022 5:30 AM

With severe weather in the offing, fire safety experts advise cleaning chimneys, clearing exterior vents and taking care when using space heaters.

Among their tips for keeping safe this winter is ensuring working smoke detectors are installed on every level of the home, in each bedroom and outside sleeping areas, according to the National Fire Protection Association. The agency recommends testing smoke alarms monthly, replacing batteries at least once a year and replacing smoke detectors every 10 years.

 

Nonworking smoke detectors were an issue in several recent fires in Des Plaines, according to fire department Division Chief Dave Schuman.

The improper use of extension cords and power strips also have been linked to recent fires in town, Schuman said, describing incidents involving "space heaters not plugged directly into outlets, overloaded power strips and extension cords used permanently when they're only supposed to be temporary."

"In some cases (people) are splicing cords, which is not allowed," he said, adding that power cords shouldn't be altered and old ones should be replaced.

Additionally, power strips should never be "piggy backed" with one plugged into another, Schuman said.

Citing a recent incident in which a bird's nest lodged in a chimney caused a fire that spread to the attic, Schuman urges homeowners to have fireplaces inspected and cleaned by a licensed professional before lighting a fire.

Naperville Fire Department public education specialist Soraya McLaughlin agrees a dirty fireplace can be hazardous because creosote, a highly flammable substance, builds up inside a chimney, where extreme heat or a stray spark can ignite it and cause a fire.

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Instead of dumping ashes into a garbage can in the garage where it can ignite hours later, McLaughlin recommends discarding ashes in a metal container with a lid at least 10 feet from the house. She said it's also important to keep exterior furnace vents clear of ice and snow to prevent carbon monoxide buildup.

To that end, McLaughlin recommends installing a carbon monoxide detector on every level and outside sleeping areas. Like smoke detectors, they should be tested monthly and the batteries changed annually, she said.

"Another concern is people warming their cars up in their attached garages," she said. "Cars give off carbon monoxide. When in an attached garage, CO can pass through drywall ceilings and walls because drywall is highly porous.

"If you are going to warm your car up, you need to pull the car outside, close the garage door and then let it warm up."

Snow should also be removed from around fire hydrants, at least three feet in all directions with a path from the road to the hydrant, she said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

North Shore Gas offers additional tips for staying safe this winter.

• Use only newer -odel space heaters with automatic shut-off. Keep them on a flat surface, away from children and pets, and at least six feet from drapes, blankets or other flammable materials. Plug space heaters directly into the wall, not into power strips or extension cords.

• Turn off electric blankets when not in use and keep pets away from them.

• Have furnaces inspected by licensed professionals. Clean and replace filters regularly.

• Never use a stove or oven to heat the home.

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