Firefighters warn to inspect chimneys and space heaters after holiday fires

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The cold winter temperatures are encouraging some to use their fireplace and space heaters to stay warm.

Kansas City and Overland Park firefighters say two fires broke out on Christmas Day, and at least one of those started in the family's chimney.

Firefighters say it's extremely important to keep your chimney clean because the residue left behind from fires is highly combustible.

The National Fire Protection Association recommends an annual chimney inspection. A basic inspection will take between an hour and 90 minutes and can cost up to $3,000. The chimney sweep will inspect and clean the chimney and firebox and alert you to any structural damage.

You'll also want to check for draft, the natural pull of air that draws up the chimney, allowing smoke to escape from your house during a fire. The pull can be checked in two ways: either stick your hand in the fireplace and feel for the air or light a match and quickly blow it out to see which way the smoke blows and how well.

If the worst happens and you do have a chimney fire, you'll probably hear a roaring sound. Some people describe it as a freight train or low flying airplane. If you hear this, and the sound grows louder, you have reason to believe there's a fire raging in your chimney. First, call the fire department and get outside. If you have a second to spare, close the damper or air inlet controls on the fireplace, which will limit air from getting to the fire.

Once outside, if your hoses are still on, spray the roof of your house and trees around. That will lessen the chances of sparks setting other items in and around your home on fire.

Space heaters are also a major fire threat in the cold winter months, according to the National Fire Protection Agency. In 2010, space heaters caused 57,000 homes to catch fire in the U. S. They also caused 500 deaths and 1,500 injuries, not to mention the billions of dollars in property damage.

The biggest mistake homeowners can make, according to the N.FPA, is placing space heaters too close to upholstered furniture, clothing, a mattress or bedding. It's recommended that you keep them 3 feet from all household items. You're also urged to make sure the space heater has a tip-over switch that shuts it off if it tips over. Several fire agencies also warn against using liquid-fueled space heaters.

You'll want to choose a heater that has been tested and certified by a nationally recognized label, it'll indicate that both on the box and on the heater itself.

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