BY KEN LITTLE
Two fires last week in the county may have been related to occupants' trying to keep warm.
Precautions can be taken to prevent fires caused by home-heating devices, local fire officials said.
A fire early Feb. 22 at a house at 4450 Old Stage Road originated near a wood stove. The homeowner told sheriff's deputies he was asleep when he heard a "crackling noise" that woke him up.
The man checked the wood stove, saw the fire burning and called 911. Tusculum and Newmansville volunteer firefighters were able to extinguish the blaze.
The house sustained moderate damage. The fire likely started in a first-floor stovepipe going into the wall, fire officials said.
Tusculum and Newmansville VFDs were called out again about 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 22 to a mobile home at 700 Holder Road. When firefighters arrived, the mobile home was fully engulfed in flames, Tusculum fire Capt. Matthew Stanley said.
One occupant also heard crackling noises coming from an electric heater and then saw fire burning in the area of the heater, a report by a sheriff's deputy said.
The cause may have been electrical in nature, fire officials added. The single-wide mobile home was destroyed.
No injuries were reported in either fire.
PORTABLE HEATER FIRES
Nationwide, an estimated 900 portable heater fires in residential buildings are reported to U.S. fire departments each year and cause an estimated 70 deaths, 150 injuries and $53 million in property loss, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) U.S. Fire Administration (USFA).
Portable-heater fires peak in January, but with cold weather forecast in the area into next week, residents need to be mindful about heater safety, said Capt. Marty Shelton, of the Greeneville Fire Department.
"One of the best ways to protect yourself and your family is to have a working smoke alarm. A smoke alarm greatly reduces your chances of dying in a fire," said Shelton, who is also a member of the Tusculum Volunteer Fire Department.
Shelton also offered other safety tips.
"Have your chimney inspected at least once a year. Tar build-up inside of the chimney can cause the chimney, roof, and the whole house to go up in flames," he said.
Families should prepare an escape plan and practice it at least twice a year, Shelton said.
"Make sure everyone in your family knows at least two escape routes from their bedrooms," he said.
Shelton also offered another bit of life-saving advice.
"Don't place heaters near combustible items," he said.
According to USFA, 52 percent of portable heater fires in residential buildings occurred because the heat source was too close to combustibles.
A USFA report released last year said that 38 percent of portable heater fires in residential buildings originated in bedrooms.
"In these fires, bedding, such as blankets, sheets and comforters, was the leading item first ignited by portable heaters, at 25 percent," the report said.
Each year, fire kills 3,500 Americans, injures 18,300, and causes billions of dollars worth of damage.
RURAL AREAS AT RISK
"People living in rural areas are more than twice as likely to die in a fire than those living in mid-sized cities or suburban areas. The misuse of wood stoves, portable space heaters and kerosene heaters is an especially common risk in rural areas," the report said.
"All heating equipment needs space. Keep anything that can burn at least three feet away. Supervise children whenever a wood stove or space heater is being used. Have a three-foot 'kid-free' zone around open fires and space heaters," it recommends.
While portable heating fires were relatively small in number, "consequences were substantial, accounting for nearly half of all fatal heating fires in residential buildings," the report said.
Many of these fires were preventable as human error (such as) placing the heater too close to combustible items or leaving the heater unattended.
The following safety steps aimed at preventing a portable heater fire are recommended by USFA:
* Turn heaters off when going to bed or leaving the room.
* Only purchase and use portable space heaters from a recognized testing laboratory with an automatic shut-off, so that if they're tipped over, they will shut off.
* Plug portable heaters directly into outlets and never into an extension cord or power strip.
* Inspect heaters for cracked or damaged cords, broken plug or loose connections. Replace before using the heater.
* For portable kerosene or other liquid-fueled space heaters, always use the proper grade of the proper fuel.
Here are some other safety tips from USFA:
Wood stoves cause more than 4,000 residential fires every year. Carefully follow the manufacturer's installation and maintenance instructions.
Look for solid construction, such as plate steel or cast iron metal. Check for cracks and inspect legs, hinges and door seals for smooth joints and seams.
Use only seasoned wood for fuel, not green wood, artificial logs, or trash.
In pellet stoves, burn only dry, seasoned wood pellets.
Inspect and clean your pipes and chimneys annually and check monthly for damage or obstructions.
ELECTRIC SPACE HEATERS
Buy only heaters evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
Check to make sure the heater has a thermostat-control mechanism, and will switch off automatically if the heater falls over.
Heaters are not dryers or tables; don't dry clothes or store objects on top of your heater. Plug space heaters directly into wall outlets and never into an extension cord or power strip.
Buy only heaters evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory, such as UL, and check with the local fire department on the legality of kerosene heater use in your community.
Never fill a heater with gasoline or camp stove fuel; both flare up easily. Only use crystal clear K-1 kerosene.
When refueling, allow the appliance to cool first and then refuel outside.
Never overfill any portable heater. Use the kerosene heater in a well ventilated room.
Fireplaces regularly build up creosote in their chimneys and need to be cleaned out frequently. Chimneys should be inspected for obstructions and cracks to prevent deadly chimney and roof fires.
Check to make sure the damper is open before starting any fire.
Never burn trash, paper or green wood in your fireplace. These materials cause heavy creosote buildup and are difficult to control.
Use a screen heavy enough to stop rolling logs and big enough to cover the entire opening of the fireplace to catch flying sparks.
Also, don't wear loose-fitting clothes near any open flame. Make sure the fire is completely out before leaving the house or going to bed.
Allow ashes to cool before disposing of them. Place ashes in a tightly covered metal container and keep the ash container at least 10 feet away from your home and any other nearby buildings.
Never empty the ash directly into a trash can. Douse and saturate the ashes with water.
For more information about fire prevention, visit the USFA website at http://www.usfa.fema.gov