Be Cautious of Heater Fires During Winter

The end of daylight savings time Sunday was a surefire sign that winter is quickly approaching. Valley City Fire Chief Gary Retterath said Valley City residents should take this time to check their smoke detectors and heating equipment to avoid house fires.

The Valley City Fire Department responded to quite a few grass fires during the past dry summer and fall, and now they’re expecting to respond to more fires related to heating, cooking and in vehicles.

North Dakota winters can produce some frigid weather, so heating devices of all sorts — furnaces, space heaters and fire places — work overtime.
Retterath says fires related to heating devices are common over the winter months but can be easily avoided.

“Make sure they are serviced annually,” he said. “They provide us a lot of warmth and security, and we want to make sure they’re working right.”
Retterath said all types of furnaces, oil, gas and electric, should be checked. While electrical fires usually aren’t as bad, they can still occur.

When it comes to fireplaces, Retterath said, they should be cleaned properly and used carefully.

“If it’s a wood fireplace, just be careful with cleaning it,” the fire chief said, adding that ashes should be put in a metal container with nothing else but ashes in it to avoid a hot ash igniting a fire.
He also says to burn secured wood and have the chimney cleaned.
“Natural gas fireplaces need to be serviced just like any heating device,” Retterath said.

A good way to avoid an out-of-control fire is by having working smoke detectors in every room.

Retterath said a good time to check smoke detector batteries is this time of year when people change their clocks. They should be changed at least annually.

Cooking fires are also a bit more common in the winter months, Retterath said, but cooking is also the number one cause of fires year-round both nationally and locally.

“They tend to not be too serious, but of course some of them can be,” Retterath said.

In order to prepare for the winter, Retterath said the VCFD is preparing by making sure the firemen have an extra shirt, sweatshirt and pair of socks “in case it’s a real cold night.”

Another danger posed with furnaces is the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

“Carbon monoxide problems occur quite a bit more during the winter,” Retterath said, adding that oil and gas furnaces are what gives off carbon monoxide.

“Homes are built so much tighter these days, so they don’t ventilate as much,” Retterath said.

Retterath said electric digital carbon monoxide detectors are important to have and fairly accurate.

In case a fire does get out of control, having an established exit plan can alleviate potential danger.

“With all the heating devices running (during the winter), it’s so important to have a plan — an escape plan — and have your detectors working,” Retterath said.

“We’re not a big city where (house fires) happen all the time. We’re not reminded of it as often,” he continued.

Retterath said people can get a little apathetic on fires — “That’s not going to happen to me.” But he advises that people need to plan for a fire to occur.