I want to take the weeks before Christmas to talk about fire causes that either happened around Christmas, or that resulted in loss of life at other times of the year. I will couple two things into this title: improper disposal of smoking materials and fireplace ashes. I may seem to repeat myself in these articles, but preventing a fire in your home is my number one goal.
I remember a Christmas Eve fire in the Northeast, brought on by fireplace ashes being taken from a fireplace or woodstove and placed on the front porch; a child did not believe that Santa could come down the chimney with a fire in the fireplace. I ran a number of fires in my career with such a cause. I have stated many times before that fireplace or woodstove embers keep their heat for one to two weeks after the last burning. Vacuuming embers and shoveling them into a paper bag are the primary nemeses, however; I have seen plastic trash cans burned or melted to the wheels from this same cause. The proper way to dispose of fireplace ashes is to place them in a covered metal container, away from all other combustibles like your deck, shed, garage, or wood pile. Dousing ashes with water in the metal container ensures that they will not start a fire beyond that container.
Improperly discarded smoking materials have claimed the lives of many in Chesterfield County alone. Whether thrown into a flowerbed with mulch or placed in a container inside or outside of the home, discarded smoking materials have caused numerous residential fires. Cigarettes burn at about 550 degrees Fahrenheit at the tip. Discarded cigarettes, if not extinguished, can easily cause a fire in your flowerbed, which is normally in close proximity to wood members of porches or decks. Just as you need a closed metal container for fireplace ashes, smoking materials require the same. Many times butt cans are used as trash receptacles; which makes for a fire just waiting to occur. When you see pictures of a house where the fire has consumed the front or back exterior of a home, you need to ask, what was on that porch or deck that could cause that fire?
The human factor is a large contributor to improperly discarded ashes or smoking materials. Society and the fire service deem these fires accidental, though they can be directly connected to the actions of an individual. Placing a smoke alarm in every bedroom came about because of the improper actions of people behind closed doors. Though I have not heard about any of these cases lately, a person who smokes in bed and falls asleep can wind up hurt or killed from a fire starting on their person or in the bed that they are sleeping in. The very first fire that I ever responded to as a volunteer at Fire Station No. 1, claimed the life of a gentleman who fell asleep while smoking on a couch.
It is my hope that you have a very merry Christmas. Enjoy the many sights and sounds of this season, which should not include the sound of fire engines or ladder trucks responding to your house on fire. Make sure that you have an adequate number of properly operating smoke alarms in your home.
There have been two occasions recently where people have disabled “nuisance alarms.” Nuisance alarms are those smoke alarms that go off every time you cook or burn the fireplace, or that need a new battery or those that simply need to be replaced. If the nuisance alarm is too close to the kitchen (the leading place that a fire will occur in your home) or the fireplace; then move the smoke alarm, do not disable it! Be safe.