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Winter is finally here (December 22 was the first day of winter), and many people are already struggling to stay warm. However, before you look for alternative sources of heat in your home, it’s important to know the risks—as well as the best ways to steer clear of potential fire hazards.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, heating equipment is the second leading cause of home fires, fire deaths and fire injuries most years. More than half of home heating fire deaths resulted from fires caused by heating equipment placed too close to things that can burn, such as clothing, upholstered furniture, bedding or mattresses. Additionally, portable or fixed space heaters, including wood stoves, were involved in a third (33 percent) of home heating fires and four out of five (81 percent) home heating deaths.

If you’re planning to use a space heater, take proper precautions in order to avoid potentially deadly house fires:

  • Use a space heater that has been tested according to the latest safety standards and certified by a nationally recognized testing laboratory
  • Place the heater on a level, hard and nonflammable surface (such as ceramic tile floor), rather than rugs or carpets—or near bedding or drapes
  • Keep the heater at least three feet from bedding, drapes, furniture and/or other flammable materials
  • Keep children and pets away from space heaters
  • Never leave a space heater on when you go to sleep or place a space heater close to any sleeping person

Before lighting the fireplace, be sure to:

  • Have flues and chimneys inspected each year for leaks, blockage and/or debris
  • Open the fireplace damper, and keep it open until the ashes are cool
  • Store fireplace ashes in a fire resistant, covered container, and keep the container outdoors and away from combustibles

Research by the National Fire Protection Association reveals roughly half of home fire deaths result from fires reported between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., when most people are asleep. As such, it’s important to have battery-operated smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors in every bedroom, outside every sleeping area and on every level of your home, including the basement. Also, be sure to check the batteries every month—and change them every six months. An easy way to remember to do this is to change your batteries during Daylight Saving Time in the spring and fall.

Stay safe —and warm— as the temperatures continue to drop!

Lydia Blankenship, R.N., B.S.N., is the director of trauma services at St. David’s South Austin Medical Center (St. David’s Emergency Center in Bastrop is an extension of St. David’s South Austin Medical Center).

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