Officials warn of home heating hazards

ALPENA — With winter weather slowly setting in on northern Michigan more people, if they haven’t already, will be using woodstoves, electric heaters and other forms of home heating to keep warm.

But officials say those sources can pose dangers to the family.

Alpena Fire Department Deputy Chief Bob Adrian said people who use the heating sources should take steps to be safe this winter.

Adrian said one sure thing that should be done from people who burn wood is to have chimneys cleaned and inspected for cracks.

“What could happen is the creosote can seep through the cracks. If they have a chimney fire it can spread outside the chimney,” he said. “So if you’re burning wood, having a chimney that is in good condition is a must.”

Adrian said people also should burn firewood that has been properly seasoned and is dry. Green firewood, wood that has not been properly dried, can cause buildups of creosote.

“Green wood doesn’t burn clean and part of the byproducts of combustion then, as the hot gases go up though the chimney, attaches to the lining of the chimney and it becomes kind of like a hardened tar material called creosote,” Adrian said.

Creosote can lead to chimney fires causing high heat to spread fire through wall and attic structures in the event of a fire. Adrian said people should have their woodstove pipes and brick chimney’s inspected annually to make sure they are safe, though he said there have been fewer chimney fires in recent years.

“There are not as many people burning wood in the city as there was in the 1970s and 1980s. People have converted to higher efficiency gas furnaces and the cost benefit is not there like it was years ago to burn wood,” he said.

According to Adrian, there are many more people heating with wood in the outlying areas where wood is more readily available.

Many help heat homes using electric heaters. Adrian said it is important to make sure the units are plugged directly into wall outlets and not into extension cords.

“The problem with the cord is you may have one that is not going to be able to carry the current without heating up, most of the electric heaters run at 1,500 watts, which is going to pull 12-13 amps of electricity and a lot of extension cords are not going to carry that amount … they are going to cause a fire,” he said.

He said it was important to also periodically inspect the heater, cord and plug for damage, if it is damaged do not attempt to repair it, instead throw it in the garbage, Adrian said.

Some people will heat homes with kerosene heaters. Adrian said people should follow the manufacturer’s exact instructions for using the devices.

“Follow the clearance distances, ventilation requirements and absolutely do not try to refill the heater inside the home or while it’s burning,” he said.

Adrian said the heaters should be allowed to cool completely before a refill is attempted.

“We had a gentleman who received horrible burns a few years ago when he tried to refill his kerosene heater when it was still burning,” he said.

Adrian recommended all homes have, in addition to smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors regardless of the heating used. He said a constant question is where should carbon monoxide detectors be mounted in the home.

“Carbon monoxide is so close to the molecular weight of air it doesn’t matter,” he said. “Most of them plug into an outlet. You can buy combo detectors and smoke detectors, so if you mount it on the ceiling it will be fine.”

Although officials recommend changing smoke detector batteries twice a year with time changes, Adrian recommended purchasing detectors that have 10-year lithium ion batteries that activate when the unit is installed for the first time. More safety information can be found by visiting the Michigan Bureau of Fire Services at www.michigan.gov/bfs.