When the weather outside is frightful, there is nothing better than a roaring fire to chase away the chill. To take full advantage of the cozy warmth, be sure to follow a few common sense precautions to cut the risk of a home fire.

Lots of families across Oklahoma rely on fireplaces, wood stoves and other fuel-fired appliances to keep warm in the winter. The key is to be safe and smart when using those appliances.

As a basic safety measure, it is important to keep your chimney and wood stove in good working order, and that means having them inspected and cleaned every year by a certified professional.

Chimneys should be free of obstructions and cracks, while wood stoves should be examined for cracks. Hinges and door seals should be checked for smooth joints and seams. Also, since all fireplaces can generate carbon monoxide, be sure to install and use a carbon monoxide alarm.

Burn only seasoned hardwood — soft, moist wood speeds up creosote buildup — and never use flammable liquids. Use only dry, seasoned wood pellets in pellet stoves. Do not burn cardboard, trash or debris in your fireplace or wood stove.

The idea is to build small fires that burn completely and generate less smoke. Start by placing logs at the back of the fireplace or on a supporting grate.

Make sure the damper is open before you light the fire. To cut down on the fire hazard, keep the hearth area free of decorations and flammable materials, and use only fire-resistant materials on nearby walls around wood stoves. Also, avoid wearing loose-fitting clothing near the flames.

The fireplace screen should be heavy enough to block rolling logs and span the whole opening to catch flying sparks and embers.

You can install stovepipe thermometers to check the flue temperatures in your wood stove, and keep the air inlets open to avoid creosote buildup.

A fire should never be left unattended. Carefully extinguish the flames before going to bed or leaving the house. Douse and saturate the ashes with water and give them time to completely cool before putting them in a metal container with a tight-fitting lid. The container should be stored at least 10 feet away from the house or other building.

Finally, it in spite of all your safety precautions, a fire does occur in your home, working smoke detectors and an escape plan will significantly increase your family’s chances of surviving.

Install smoke alarms on every level of your house. Test them regularly and change the batteries at least once a year. Practice your family escape plan so everyone knows what to do and where to go in case of a real emergency.

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