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Visalia Times Delta & Tulare Advance-Register

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Stay warm and stay safe with fireplaces and space heaters



  Photo courtesy of: Steve R. Fujimoto

Robert Cortez, owner of RC Chimney Cleaning, cleans the damper and smoke chamber inside an apartment in the 200 block of East San Joaquin Avenue, Tulare.

The welcome chill of autumn is upon most of us. When it does arrive, it will be met with rummaging through drawers for matches, failed guesses at whether the chimney flue is open and the first burnings of dust off furnaces and space heaters.

Then it will be the season for fires, the good kind and the bad kind.

The good kind barely needs to be defined: The finger of flame on the candle, the cozy glow in the fireplace or the oven's pilot light during a cookie-baking Saturday. Those we can live with. But all good fires come with dangers that many of us underestimate or forget.

"This is the season where people start thinking about turning on their fireplaces," said Robert Cortez, owner of RC Chimney Cleaning in Visalia. "They've never inspected it, they don't know how it is structurally, and they don't know if it needs to be cleaned."

Other potential problems when the weather first turns chilly: The towel left to dry on top of the space heater ignites, or the candle sets the curtain ablaze.

Here are some flameproof tips to keep your autumn safe, glowing and warm.

Artful extinguisher

Kitchen fires are responsible for about a third of all home fires. So it makes sense to have a kitchen fire extinguisher, right?

Home Hero, a new line by The Home Depot, had safety in mind when it came up with a sleek white extinguisher designed to look so good that people will keep it out where it is handy. It can be easily operated with one hand and weighs only 4 1/2 pounds; mounting hardware is included. The B and C rating means it is suitable for putting out grease, oil or electrical fires.

Cost: $30 at The Home Depot.

On the drawing board at Home Hero: A fire extinguisher so smart that it automatically calls the fire department when you remove it from its stand. No due date or price yet.

Heat a space

Be very aware of safety when using a portable space heater. Keep electric space heaters at least three feet away from furniture, curtains, bedding or blankets you've wrapped around yourself to ward off the chill.

Don't use an extension cord. The cords are not always adequate to carry the amount of current needed by the heater.

Turn it off when going to sleep. About half the deaths from space heater fires occur at night when people are sleeping, the U.S. Consumer Safety Commission says.

Look for a space heater that turns itself off when it overheats or is tipped over.

Electric convection heaters without fans are best for whole-room heating and, being fanless, they are quiet.

Consumer Reports describes The Safe Heat Flat Panel Micathermic, $80 at Lowe's, as a safe and easy-to-use convection heater. At only 3 inches wide, the high-style design mimics that of a flat-panel television.

For spot heating, CR gives the Holmes Quartz Tower, $60 at Lowe's, high marks for safety and efficiency.

This one has a fan that blows the hot air your way.

Don't forget the chimney

Robert said chimneys should be inspected for structural damage every year, though few people do it.

He said those who burn more than a cord of wood per season should have their chimney cleaned annually because, over time, a hard, flammable tar known as creosote builds up inside. 

"Chimney caps" also are important because they keep sparks from escaping to the roof or nearby trees avoiding a fire hazard. They are also great for keeping rain, birds & other small animals from getting into your chimney. The purchase & installation of a stainless-steel chimney cap costs $160-195, depending on the size.

"This is generally our busy season," he said.

Close quarters

Leave fast, stay low to avoid smoke inhalation, meet your family at a prearranged location and don't go back in. That's what firefighters say.

In an apartment fire, the safety tips are the same, except this: Don't assume another tenant has called the fire department.

Once you are out, call 911. If you are trapped inside, call 911 even if you see the fire trucks outside. Firefighters need to know exactly where you are.

Sources: The United States Fire Administration, National Fire Protection Association, Consumer Product Safety Commission, Consumer Reports, Duracell, Duraflame.