Saturday, December 06, 2008
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State fire marshal warns of fires during winter months

Primary blame on faulty heating systems

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[December 06, 2008]  SPRINGFIELD -- As people throughout the state turn up the heat in their homes to fight the cold winter air, the state fire marshal is urging Illinoisans to keep fire safety in mind. Last year in Illinois, heating equipment caused 615 residential fires, resulting in 31 injuries and nearly $6 million in property damage.

"While the holiday season is a favorite time of year for many people, it's also the time when we see an increased number of home fires that could have been prevented with a little caution," said State Fire Marshal David B. Foreman. "We don't want anyone's holiday celebrations to be ruined by a tragic fire. Just a few simple steps can ensure safety and save lives."

DonutsAccording to the most recent statistics available from the National Fire Protection Association, heating equipment was involved in an estimated 62,200 home structure fires in 2005 in the U.S., resulting in 670 deaths, 1,550 injuries and $909 million in direct property damage.

Holiday decorations create additional fire hazards during December. In 2007, there were 40 fires caused by holiday decorations statewide, resulting in more than $650,000 in damage. Nearly twice as many candle fires generally occur during December than any other month of the year, with Christmas the peak day for candle fires.

To ensure you and your family have a safe winter, the state fire marshal offers the following tips:

Space heaters

  • Many space heater-related fires are caused by combustibles placed too close to the heater. Always keep a 36-inch clearance between space heaters and anything that can burn.

  • Portable space heaters should be turned off every time you leave the room or go to bed.

  • When buying a new space heater, make sure it carries the mark of an independent testing laboratory.

  • When using kerosene heaters, be sure the room is well-ventilated.



  • Creosote buildup is a major contributor to chimney fires. Have your chimney inspected each year and cleaned if necessary.

  • Wood and coal stoves, fireplaces, chimneys, chimney connectors, and all other solid-fueled heating equipment should be inspected annually by a professional and cleaned as often as instructions suggest.

  • Fireplaces should have a sturdy screen to prevent sparks from flying into the room.

  • Allow ashes from fireplaces and wood stoves to cool before disposing of the residue in a metal container.


  • Furnaces also should be checked every year by professionals to ensure mechanical parts are functioning properly and that nothing is blocking the flue. Malfunctioning furnaces increase both fire and carbon monoxide risks.

Christmas trees

  • When buying a live Christmas tree, select a freshly cut tree or one that hasn't been on the sales lot for very long.

  • Position the live tree at least three feet away from any heat source.

  • Refill water in the tree stand regularly. Live Christmas trees dry out quickly once they're brought into a home, and a dry Christmas tree can quickly go up in flames if proper caution isn't observed.

  • Never use candles to decorate a tree, and keep all candles away from the tree.

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  • Place candles on stable furniture and in sturdy holders that will catch dripping wax.

  • Never leave a candle unattended.

  • If the power goes out, use flashlights for illumination, not candles.

  • Keep candles away from all things that can catch fire.

  • Place candles on higher furniture, where they won't be knocked over by children or pets.

  • Never place lit candles in windows, where they could ignite blinds or curtains.

  • Don't allow children or teens to have candles in their bedrooms.

  • Extinguish candles carefully, using a long-handled candle snuffer or a soft, directed blow. Be careful not to splatter wax when extinguishing.

  • Use an alternative to candles. Manufacturers make realistic-looking, battery-powered candles available now that have no flame and do not produce soot. These can be a cost-effective and safer alternative to real candles.

Lighting and decorations

  • Use caution with holiday decorations, and whenever possible, choose those made with flame-resistant, flame-retardant or noncombustible materials.

  • Purchase only lights and electrical decorations bearing the name of an independent testing lab, and follow the manufacturer's instructions for installation and maintenance.

  • Do not overload extension cords.

  • Check your strands of lights to determine the number of strands that may be connected.

  • Don't mount lights in any way that can damage the cord's wire insulation. For example, use clips, not nails.

  • Turn off all light strings and decorations before leaving the house or going to bed.

Auto Repair

Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors

  • Every home should have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, which should be tested monthly to ensure they're functioning and the batteries are still good.

  • Illinois state law requires that carbon monoxide detectors be installed within 15 feet of each sleeping area in homes and apartments. This requirement is similar to one already in effect for smoke detectors.

  • Never use your oven to heat your home.

  • Never use a gas or charcoal grill inside your home or attached garage.

For more information about fire safety, visit

[Text from Office of the State Fire Marshal file received from the Illinois Office of Communication and Information]

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