Thirty-five people died in Maryland fires last winter as the state fire marshal is urging residents to heed some simple fire-safety tips to avoid tragedy this season.
Much of the danger can be attributed to alternative heating methods for homes and buildings, said Bruce D. Bouch, director of public education and media affairs for the Maryland State Fire Marshal's Office.
December 2010 was a particularly tough month for fire-related fatalities, when 17 people died, Bouch said.
Eleven people died statewide in fires in January this year, three in February and four in March, he said.
When using portable, unvented fuel-fired devices such as kerosene heaters, never use gasoline, the fire marshal's office warned.
Portable kerosene heaters were banned in Baltimore City after they were tied to multiple fire deaths there, Bouch said.
Anyone relying on electric space heaters should only use those approved by an authorized testing laboratory, and portable heaters should be kept at least 3 feet from anything combustible, the fire marshal's office said.
If heating equipment fails, do not use kitchen stoves or ovens for heat because they significantly increase the chance of fire, officials said.
Although smoke alarms are effective at detecting fires, problems sometimes arise when people disarm them, take out the batteries or are unable to hear them at night, Bouch said.
The best defense against fire is a sprinkler system, which not only gives people more time to escape from a fire but often extinguishes it, he said.
It is also important that an escape route be established in a home in the event of a fire, and that people practice using it, Bouch said.
Practicing the route is important, especially for children who might become separated from adults during a blaze, Bouch said.