Brittney Lofthouse – Contributing Writer
The threat of winter fires is real. While house fires can happen at anytime, the threat of residential fires in the winter months is significantly higher. According to the United States Fire Administration, 890 people die in winter home fires each year. And there is an estimated $2 billion in property loss from winter home fires.
Winter home fires account for only 18 percent of the total number of fires in the U.S., but result in 30 percent of all fire deaths with cooking being the leading cause of all winter home fires.
A heat source too close to combustibles is the leading factor contributing to the start of a winter home fire (15 percent) with 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. being the most common time for winter home fires.
In the two weeks leading up to Christmas, Macon County firefighters responded to three significant home fires, which resulted in some local families losing everything.
In early December, a structure fire was reported on Nickajack Road and the Cullasaja Fire Department arrived at the scene around 2 a.m. According to Macon County Fire Marshal Jimmy Teem, the house was severely damaged from what appeared to have been a lightning strike.
The house, which was a total loss, had a tree in the backyard that appeared to have completely exploded about 30 yards from the house, which is an indication of a lightning strike.
Just a few days later on Wednesday, Dec. 18, the Macon County Fire Marshal’s Office sent out a press release saying a mobile home in the Nantahala community was destroyed as a result of a fire.
Nantahala Fire and Rescue responded to the scene at 1001 U.S. Highway 19 around 7 p.m. and found the mobile home completely engulfed in flames. The two occupants of the home did not sustain any injuries, but the structure was entirely destroyed.
Just a few days following the Nantahala Fire, on a Sunday morning, a fire broke out at a home in Otto which resulted in significant damage. The fire was reported at 115 Marion Thomas Road in Otto and the fire department reported to the scene around 3 a.m. Sunday morning, along with the Clarks Chapel and West Macon Fire Departments.
According to Otto Fire and Rescue, the fire was believed to have originated from a wood stove. Three occupants were inside the home at the time, however, no injuries were reported.
Macon County Emergency Management Director Warren Cabe said that this time of year there is always an increase in residential fires, and homeowners should be more cautious.
“Home fires occur more in the winter months than any other time of year,” said Cabe. “Residents should keep anything that can burn at least three feet from all heat sources including fireplaces, wood stoves, and space heaters.”
Cabe offered additional advice for residents heading into the New Year.
“Maintain your heating equipment and chimneys and have them inspected by professionals,” said Cabe. “Make sure space heaters have an automatic shut-off that shuts it off if it tips over. Keep a glass or metal screen in front of the fireplace to prevent embers or sparks from jumping out. Make sure the home has working smoke detectors. Put ashes in a metal container with a lid, outside, at least three feet from your home.”
“Now is as good of a time as any to sit down with your children and discuss what to do in the event of a fire in your home,” said Safe Kids Macon County Coordinator Corporal Nick Lofthouse.
In 2013, 334 children died in home fires. Eighty-seven percent of all fire-related deaths are due to home fires, which spread rapidly and can leave families as little as two minutes to escape once an alarm sounds.
Top tips offered by Safe Kids Worldwide
Working smoke alarms reduce the chances of dying in a fire by nearly 50 percent. They are a critical first step for staying safe, but in order to be effective, they have to be working properly. For the best protection, install smoke alarms on every level of your home and in every sleeping area.
Teach kids never to play with matches and lighters. Make a habit of placing these items up and away from young children.
Create and practice a home fire escape plan with two ways out of every room in case of a fire. Get a stopwatch and time how fast your family can escape.
Children should know how to respond to the sound of a smoke alarm. Teach them to get low and get out when they hear it. A child who is coached properly ahead of time will have a better chance to be safe.
Use common sense in the kitchen. Limit distractions when cooking and don’t leave a hot oven or stovetop unattended.
Blow out candles before you leave the room or before you go to sleep.