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Warm, Cozy & Combustible: Winter Fire Safety Tips

As the mercury drops in the Eureka area, many homeowners switch on their furnaces, light the fireplace for a festive fire, and deploy a few space heaters. Unfortunately, winter brings an increased risk of house fires because of heating sources. 

According to the National Fire Protection Administration (NFPA), December, January, and February have the highest incidence of house fires associated with heating sources, including fireplaces, space heaters, and even household furnaces. However, the NFPA explains that space heaters cause one-third of all heating-related fires. Don’t be a statistic. Follow these cold-weather fire safety tips and learn how to minimize the risk of a heat-source fire.

Do Space Heaters Catch on Fire? How to Use Small Space Heaters Safely

Any appliance or device with a plug that is attached to the outlet has the potential to catch on fire. Frayed wires, overloaded outlets, and even flammable debris add to the fire risk.

Space heaters can be used safely. However, individuals must follow some guidelines and safety tips to minimize fire risk.

When using space heaters, always:

  • Operate it away from flammable items. Keep the area around the heater clear at all times. 

  • Check the instructions for the heater and use it properly. 

  • Keep the heater on a flat surface. 

  • Turn off the heater before going to bed or leaving the house.

  • Keep children and pets away from a heater.

Using a portable heater when asleep is incredibly dangerous. As portable heaters are one of the leading causes of house fires (related to heating sources), homeowners need to be extra diligent when using these small space heaters.

Furnace Safety Inspection Checklist

Central heating in modern homes is powered by electricity or natural gas. Furnaces require regular maintenance and upkeep to maximize their efficiency and longevity.

Schedule a furnace inspection with a licensed HVAC professional before turning on the heat for the first time. This inspection helps identify small issues and perhaps major issues that could pose a fire hazard.

Homeowners also need to perform their mini-inspections regularly. Follow this furnace safety inspection checklist:

  • Examine the air filter. A dirty air filter impacts the performance of the system. Change filters at least every three months and more often if you own pets.

  • Check the thermostat. Faulty thermostats can lead to high energy costs. Make sure the thermostat is working appropriately. 

  • Check gas lines. Leaking gas lines are a safety and fire hazard. If you smell something, leave the home and call the fire department!

  • Test the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Change batteries yearly.

  • Inspect the flue pipe (gas furnaces). Make sure the pipe is clear.

Fireplace Safety Tips

During the winter, lighting a fire in the fireplace offers a cozy and festive atmosphere. Curling next to the fireplace, reading a book, or sipping hot chocolate or cider feels comforting. Whether a home has a gas, electric, or standard wood-burning fireplace, demonstrating proper safety habits helps minimize the risk of a house fire. 

Before lighting the first fire of the season in the fireplace, always:

  • Schedule a fireplace maintenance check-up. It’s common for birds to build nests in chimneys, and animals could also live there. A regular check-up keeps the flue and fireplace clean and helps identify any major issues. 

  • Open the flue. A closed flue leads to smoke billowing into the home. Keep that flue open.

  • Test the smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. 

When enjoying a fire in the fireplace, keep a few safety precautions in mind:

  • Teach children to stay away from the fire.

  • Never apply fuel to a fire (this can lead to serious burns, an out-of-control fire, or even a fatality).

  • Never leave fires unattended. Extinguish the fire before leaving home or going to bed. Make sure every ember is extinguished; an easy way to do this is by using baking soda to put out hot embers.

  • Only burn untreated wood. Using chemically-treated wood leads to hazardous fumes.

Hot Dogs and Cool Cats: Don’t Forget the Safety of Pets This Winter!

When cold weather hits our town, furnaces, fireplaces, and even small space heaters keep us warm. While we need to be mindful of safety procedures for all heat sources in the home, we also need to be mindful of our pets and if they are warm and safe.

Cold weather poses serious risks to the life and safety of pets. Not only are dogs and cats at risk for hypothermia when the temperature drops to freezing, but snow, ice, and extreme cold also can cause frostbite and injury.


Different sources offer different recommendations about when to bring pets indoors. If the temperature is too cold for you to be without a coat, then it’s too cold for a pet to stay outside for an extended period. Once temperatures drop below 40, never leave them outdoors for long periods.

Our pets cannot tell us when they are in pain or suffering or when they are too cold. Use common sense and be a good pet parent by bringing pets indoors to escape the winter cold.

Stay Warm and Safe!

Remember to practice proper safety precautions when warming up your home this winter. Don’t forget to schedule a furnace inspection with an HVAC professional and be mindful of the risks associated with those festive fireplace flames. As temperatures drop, keep dogs and cats (and other animals) warm and safe, too!

About the Author:

Eureka Fire Protection District is an EMS, Fire, and Rescue service provider located in Eureka, Missouri. Staffed with nearly one hundred volunteer and career Paramedics, EMTs, Firefighters, Junior Firefighters, and administrative teams, the department provides its local community with fire prevention, education, safety resources, and emergency relief. Eureka Fire Protection District maintains a reputation as a well-run, high-performing fire department by keeping up to date with the latest in life-saving training and technology.

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