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Stay warm and stay safe as winter brings increased fire risks

Minnesota and Wisconsin winter cold is inevitable. We’ve had the heat on for months, relying on furnaces, fireplaces, and space heaters as we cook holiday meals and more. As the temps drop and we cope with the cold, the number of fires climbs. The need for warmth brings the risk of fire and death. In 2020, 13 people died in Minnesota fires in November, December and January alone. Just today, December 28, two major Minnesota house fires, one a total loss at $3 million, were reported.

In 2020, 421 house fires occurred in Minnesota because of heating issues. Of those, 197 were caused by heating appliances like boilers/furnaces; 192 fires were caused by fireplaces and chimneys. Safety can’t be over emphasized. Precautions are essential. For example, have a professional check your furnace, fireplace, and chimney annually. Never assume what worked last year is in good working order for the coming season.

Let’s talk space heaters. While they can be essential, they require your attention. NEVER leave them unattended or sleep with them on. Plug them directly into the wall; do not use an extension cord. Space heaters draw a lot of power and can overheat the plug connection. Always abide by the three-foot rule: Keep your space heater three feet from furniture, rugs, towels, etc.; anything combustible. Never use them to dry clothing or towels, no matter how badly you want to wear that still-damp blouse.

On to the kitchen, where fires can start alarmingly fast. When you’re making dinner and juggling several pots of deliciousness on the stove or baking the family’s favorite pie, remember these Fire-pi kitchen pro tips:

Never leave food cooking on the stove unattended. Stay in the kitchen while you have stove burners going.

Keep a timer with you when baking in the oven so you don’t lose track of time; check on items in the oven frequently.

Keep combustible items at least 3 feet from the stove — think aprons, dish towels and cookbooks.

If a fire occurs on the stove, resist the urge to move the pan and put it in the sink or throw water, flour, or baking soda on it. Instead, put on an oven mitt, slide a lid or cookie sheet over the flames, and turn off the stove. You’ve starved the fire of the oxygen it needs to keep burning and protected your skin. Let the pan sit until cool.

A working smoke alarm can give you the critical seconds you need to escape safely, but a smoke alarm can only save your life if it works. Test your smoke alarms monthly and replace the batteries twice a year. And test your carbon monoxide alarms as well. Fuelburning appliances can malfunction and pump deadly

levels of CO into your home, where the odorless and colorless gas has nowhere to go because all the doors and windows are sealed tight against the cold.