Take precautions due to higher risk of fire in old homes

Take precautions due to higher risk of fire in old homes
(Source: KLTV)

. - As a cold front moves towards East Texas, homeowners are making whatever preparations that they can, and fire departments are on stand-by waiting for the inevitable call of a residential fire started by someone just trying to stay warm.

Older homes and heating appliances add to the high rate of house fires in the winter. At hardware stores in Longview, customers are quickly snapping up materials to protect pipes, as the temperatures are expected to dip into freezing levels in days to come.

"It's come a little bit early this year. I think this is the earliest we've seen it in a few years, usually it's January-February," says Alec James of ACE Hardware.

But keeping homes warm, particularly older homes, can create a danger.

"Between November and February we typically see a spike in residential structure fires, more times than not it's heating issues. Old homes, old seasoned wood. Sure, it's a bad combination when you involve a fire," says Longview Fire Chief J.P. Steelman.

Steelman says older homes tend to be less insulated, so owners quite often use space heaters.

"People improperly using space heaters. Using space heaters that may overload circuits, and it puts a strain on the entire system that unfortunately leads to some type of structure fire. When you take that space heater, which may pull 15 amps, and put it in an older home that may have a 15 amp circuit initially in the wall, again, it was never intended to handle that kind of overload," the chief says.

Another problem with older homes regardless of the weather, is older wiring; wiring that sometimes isn't even insulated.

"It can create an arc, a short to the electrical system that could lead to a fire inside the walls or the ceiling," Steelman says. 

Steelman says owners of older homes should have an expert come in.

"Seeking the expertise of a qualified electrician to come in and upgrade your house. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," says Steelman.

Chief Steelman says everyone should have a smoke alarm, and if you use a space heater, follow some simple guidelines: Keep the unit at least 3 feet away from any combustible material, curtains, rugs, or furniture.

Also,  never use an extension cord with a space heater. You should plug it directly into the wall.
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