How to prevent fires at home as weather gets chilly

As those chilly, crisp fall nights have you adjusting the thermostat, making more hot meals or maybe even having candles on the table, a Montgomery County, Maryland, fire official urges caution.

All of those things can also spark fires, and Pete Piringer, Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service’s spokesman, said residents should take some time to think about prevention.

Smoke detectors, even those with 10-year, long-life batteries, have backup batteries that may start chirping.

“Typically, that usually occurs at 3 a.m.,” Piringer said.

Before going to bed, perform a monthly test on the smoke detector and swap out the backup batteries every six months, Piringer advised.

Unattended cooking is the leading cause of house fires. With families spending more time at home due to the coronavirus, your kitchen may be a schoolwork or homework hub. But Piringer said, “Avoid distractions if you’re in the kitchen.”

And just as your children would be having fire drills at their schools, have a fire drill at your home.

“So everybody, your family and your visitors know what to do if a smoke alarm does sound.”

Teach the kids to be able to relay critical information in an emergency.

“It’s never too early to have the kids practice and know what their address is in the event that they would have to call 911,” Piringer said.

If a fire does break out, Piringer said get out of the home first. House fires spread much faster than you think.

“The general rule of thumb is that a fire will double in size every minute,” he said.

For example, a small fire in a trash could spread in one minute to a chair or couch.

“In two or three minutes, the whole room can be on fire,” Piringer said.

Check around your home. Do you have extension cords completely plugged up with appliances? Piringer said to rethink that. Extension cords should be temporary, not a permanent fixture.

Piringer said go outside and think like a firefighter. Is your address clearly visible day and night? Ideally, the house or unit numbers should be 5 inches tall and should contrast with the background, Piringer said. Exterior lights can also spotlight your address.

If your home has a fireplace or you use a fire pit, make sure to clear out the remains of the fire in a metal container with a lid. And store that outside, away from the garage, your home or wood piles.

Make certain that the sprinklers at your home are in working order. Piringer said they save lives and property. Smoke alarms can alert families to fire, but sprinklers can suppress the flames.

And if a fire does break out, no matter where you are, get low and go. Heat and smoke rise, so getting low, by either crouching or crawling if you have to, puts you in a better position to avoid smoke inhalation.

For more fire prevention and general safety tips, visit Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service’s website.

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