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Maryland State Fire Marshal's Office urges residents to avoid fire tragedies this season

December 08, 2011|By DAVE McMILLION | davem@herald-mail.com

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.

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Fire prevention tips for the holidays

Here are some winter fire-safety tips from the Maryland State Fire Marshal's Office:

  • Test smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.
  • Check exits in your home and any other buildings you occupy.
  • When using fireplaces, wood stoves or pellet stoves, make sure they have been installed and serviced by trained technicians.
  • Never leave candles unattended.
  • Never leave a stove unattended when cooking. If a fire occurs in a pan, calmly place a lid over it and turn off the burner.
  • Follow safety precautions and manufacturer's instructions when using a turkey fryer.
  • Place a cut Christmas tree away from heat sources and add water to it every day while on display. Select a tree with a sticky trunk and one with green needles that don't fall off easily.
  • Never use lit candles on a tree.
  • Inspect holiday lighting for damaged wiring and always unplug lights before leaving home or going to bed.
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