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Experts Offer Safety Tips Following Major Fires

LEWISBORO, N.Y. – Lewisboro fire officials are cautioning homeowners to follow a checklist of safety tips this winter in order to keep their families and homes safe following two major fires in the area recently.

A Christmas Day fire in Stamford, Conn. took the lives of three children and their grandparents and investigators determined it was caused by improperly disposed fireplace ashes.

On Tuesday in Lewisboro, a fire destroyed the home of Katonah-Lewisboro School Board member Dr. Peter Treyz. Investigators said the cause was likely electrical in nature. The fire apparently was started by the washer/dryer while the washing machine was in use.

The Treyz family was fortunate in that the fire started in the middle of the day and they were able to escape unharmed. But, as the Stamford fire showed, that’s not always the case. Fire safety experts said that, this time of year, with wood stoves and fireplaces in full swing, homeowners should be particularly careful.

Tom Ritchey, district fire manager for the Vista Fire District, offered several tips for families to keep safe from fire danger during the cold winter months.

Christmas Trees

Ritchey said that if you haven’t done so already, get rid of your Christmas as soon as possible.

“Trees are starting to get dried out by now no matter how much you water them,” he said. “They’re a cut tree and they will dry out and become a hazard.”

This YouTube video demonstrates how quickly a Christmas tree fire can spread.

Fireplaces and Wood Stoves

“Fireplaces should be cleaned professionally once a year at the beginning of the season,” Ritchey said. “This year, the weather hasn’t been as cold and the season’s been pushed back a bit. That will change – it will get cold and people will be using their fireplaces and wood stoves regularly.”

Wood stoves should also be clean once a year. Ritchey cautions against using “green” wood – fresh wood that has dried out – in wood stoves. He points out that following the October snowstorm, residences gathered up lots of potential firewood from downed trees. However, that wood shouldn’t be used in wood stoves or fireplaces for a least a year.

“Green wood soots up more and creates more creosol and the stove will need to be cleaned more often,” he said. “Instead, use seasoned wood. Wood gathered from the snowstorm is not ready.”

Ritchey also urges wood stove owners to create a three-foot area around the stove where potentially combustible items, such as paper and cardboard, are not allowed.

Escape Plan

As the Stamford fire illustrates – escape plans are crucial if a fire breaks out. Families should establish one and rehearse it.

“Family members should know two ways out of every room,” Ritchey said. “And the escape plan should be practiced twice a year – once using the first exit and then using the second exit.”

A designated gathering point should be established so the family can meet and determined if everyone is out of the house.

Smoke Detectors

Ritchey said smoke detectors are vital, but they’ll do homeowners no good if they’re not operational.

“One point I’ve always made is to check to see if you have a battery-operated back-up if you have one that’s electrically hardwire," he said. "Otherwise, if there is a power outage, they’ll do you no good.”

Battery-operated smoke detectors should have their batteries changed twice a year – in the spring and fall.

“You should test them once a month by pressing that red test button,” he said.

Dryer Vents

“Most people realize the dryer filter needs to be cleaned otherwise the clothes won’t dry,” Ritchey said. “But most don’t think about the vents and pipes.”

There are professional cleaning services that will do the job for you or you can sign a maintenance contract with the retailer that sold you the appliance.

“We bought our dryer at Sears and we have a contract where they’ll come out and clean the vents for us,” he said.

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