September 20, 2018
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How homeowners can help protect their property from risk of fire in the wintertime

Photo courtesy of Fort Fairfield Fire Department
Photo courtesy of Fort Fairfield Fire Department
Firefighters from five towns fought a fire in subzero temperatures in downtown Fort Fairfield on Dec. 31, 2017.
By Abigail Curtis, BDN Staff
Updated:

Winter is the season of ice — but too often it is also the season of fire.

As the mercury plummet ed during the recent cold snap, it was unfortunately not rare to see reports of property fires around the state. During last week’s blizzard, fires consumed two barns and an outbuilding in Starks and a garage and greenhouse in Dover-Foxcroft.

One Maine fire chief has some advice for folks trying to to keep their homes, barns and other property warm and protected from the Arctic blasts of air that seem to seep in from all the cracks and crevices. A little prevention goes a long way, Chief Chris Whytock of Rockland Fire and EMS said Friday.

“We preach prevention hard here in the city,” he said. “The big thing I always preach is to keep an eye on your neighbors. And if you have any questions as far as a safety issue, call your local fire department. Everybody’s more than willing to help out their local citizen and neighbor to make sure everyone is safe.”

Mainers who heat with wood stoves should make sure that the flue and the chimney are clean, that they burn dry wood and not green wood and also make sure to keep wood and other flammable materials a safe distance away from the stove. Some chimneys may need to be cleaned twice a year, he said, because of their age or the way they are constructed.

“It comes down to knowing your operation. No time is too late to get it looked at,” Whytock said.

Some Mainers supplement furnaces, propane stoves or wood stoves with portable electric heaters. Newer heater models can be safer than those of the past, the chief said, adding that careful homeowners should make sure their electric heaters have such useful safety features as automatic shut offs and built-in thermostats which keep the devices from overheating. Still, people should take care around these heaters, too.

“If you’re using an electric heater, my recommendation is to always be in the room where you’re using it and to keep it away from anything that can combust,” Whytock said.

He also strongly encourages people to make sure their smoke detectors are functioning and to install a carbon monoxide detector, preferably with a 10-year battery. He believes a carbon monoxide detector likely saved the life of a Rockland resident last week who was unaware she had a faulty burner on her furnace.

“An elderly resident called because her alarm was going off,” he said. “When we walked in, the levels measured over 500 parts per million, a very unhealthy and unsafe level. She was unaware of it until the detector started sounding.”

Whytock and other fire officials hope that Mainers will use both caution and common sense while they turn up the heat.

“Maine winters can be rough, but Maine people are pretty resourceful,” Whytock said. “If you can prevent a fire from happening, that’s the ideal.”

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