Improperly disposed of fireplace ashes last week started fires in both Payson and Pine, damaging a porch and half an acre of forest.
Fire officials say both fires could have been easily prevented if the homeowners had followed a few simple rules.
The first fire, in Payson Tuesday, occurred when a homeowner placed ashes from a wood stove in a plastic bucket on the porch. The ashes, although appearing to be out, were still quite warm. They eventually melted the bucket and started the deck and the siding of the house on fire. Luckily, the husband came home at lunch, saw the smoke and called for help, said Fire Chief Marty deMasi.
Firefighters snuffed the blaze before it could spread, keeping the damage under $500.
Then a Strawberry homeowner dumped his fireplace ash out in a wooded area, inadvertently catching the forest on fire and briefly threatening two homes. Crews again got it out before any major damage occurred.
Ashes should be placed in a metal container and sprayed with water before disposal, deMasi said. Even two-week-old ash can catch fire.
Minor mistakes like the ones these homeowners made cause major fires in Rim Country each year.
In 2010, a homeowner put a box of “cold ashes” on their back porch and it caught fire.
deMasi said he dreamed up the fire safety slogan “Watch your ash!”
“If you use wood heat, place ashes in a metal container, douse with water and stir it up to make sure it is dead out,” he said. “Never place ashes directly in the trash or on combustibles like pine needles, grass or wood.”
Other fire safety precautions include having a working smoke alarm on each level of the home and keeping exits accessible.
But fireplaces aren’t the only culprits of winter fires. Holiday decorations have started quite a few blazes. An estimated 240 home fires involve Christmas trees and another 150 involve holiday lights each year, according to the National Fire Protection Association and the U.S. Fire Administration. Together, these fires result in 21 deaths and $25.2 million in property damage. A few simple fire safety tips can keep electric lights, candles, and the Christmas tree from creating a tragedy, deMasi said.
If your household includes a natural tree in its festivities, keep it watered. Christmas trees account for hundreds of fires annually.
Typically, shorts in electrical lights or open flames from candles, lighters or matches start tree fires. Well-watered trees are not a problem. A dry and neglected tree can be.
Caring for the tree
Do not place a tree close to a heat source, including a fireplace or heat vent. The heat will dry out the tree, making it more easily ignited by heat, flame or sparks. Do not leave it up for longer than two weeks.
Disposing the tree
Never put tree branches or needles in a fireplace or wood-burning stove. When the tree becomes dry, discard it promptly. The best way to dispose of a tree is at a recycling center.
Maintain holiday lights
Inspect holiday lights each year for frayed wires, bare spots, gaps in the insulation, broken or cracked sockets, and excessive kinking or wear before putting them up.
Do not overload electrical outlets or put more together than three light strands unless the directions indicate it is safe. Connect strings of lights to an extension cord before plugging the cord into the outlet. Make sure to periodically check the wires — they should not be warm to the touch.
Do not block exits
Ensure that trees and other holiday decorations do not block an exit way.
Never put wrapping paper in the fireplace. Wrapping paper in the fireplace can result in a large fire, throwing off dangerous sparks and embers that may result in a chimney fire.
Never leave a burning candle unattended.
Consider using battery-operated flameless candles.
If you do use lit candles
Make sure candles are in stable holders and place them where they cannot be easily knocked over. Keep candles at least a foot from anything that can burn and never put lit candles on a tree.
Keep fires where they belong
More than a third of Americans use fireplaces, wood stoves and other solid fuel appliances as primary heat sources in their homes. Heating fires account for 36 percent of residential home fires in rural areas every year. Often these fires are due to creosote buildup in chimneys and stovepipes. All home heating systems require regular maintenance to function safely and efficiently.
Keep fireplaces and wood stoves clean
Have your chimney or wood stove inspected and cleaned annually by a certified chimney specialist. Clear the area around the hearth of debris, decorations and flammable materials. Close woodstove doors when the fire is out to keep air from the chimney opening from getting into the room. Most glass fireplace doors have a metal mesh screen, which should be in place when the glass doors are open. This mesh screen helps keep embers from getting out of the fireplace area. Always use a metal mesh screen with fireplaces that do not have a glass fireplace door.
Safely burn fuels
Never use flammable liquids to start a fire. Use only seasoned hardwood. Soft, moist wood accelerates creosote buildup. In pellet stoves, burn only dry, seasoned wood pellets. Build small fires that burn completely and produce less smoke. Never burn cardboard boxes, trash or debris in your fireplace or wood stove.
Allow ashes to cool before disposing of them. Place ashes in a tightly covered metal container and keep the ash container at least 10 feet away from your home and any other nearby buildings. Never empty the ash directly into a trash can. Douse and saturate the ashes with water.
Protect the outside of the home
Stack firewood outdoors at least 30 feet away from the home. Keep the roof clear of leaves, pine needles and other debris. Cover the chimney with a mesh screen spark arrester.
Protect the inside of the home
Install smoke alarms on every level of a home and both inside and outside of bedrooms. Test alarms monthly and change batteries at least once a year.
Sources: Federal Emergency Management Agency and Payson Fire Department