COLD WEATHER IS COMING: Keep safety in mind when heating your home

The Prescott Fire Department reminds residents to keep safety in mind as the cooler weather leads many people to turn on the heat for the first time this season.

"When people fire up the heater for the first time, they'll often get smoke or smell an odor and call the fire department," said Eric Kriwer, spokesman for the Prescott Fire Department.

Kriwer said the cause could be as simple as dust that has accumulated on the heater coils, but he urges people to have their heating system checked and maintained before it gets too cold each year.

People concerned about the costs of heating often turn to alternative heating sources to keep their families warm, Kriwer said.

Alternative heating sources - such as portable electric space heaters, fuel-burning space heaters, and wood- and pellet-burning stoves - can help you keep warm safely if you keep these recommendations in mind, Kriwer said.

"It's important to keep all combustibles or anything that can burn at least three feet away from heating equipment," Kriwer said. "And consider that three feet area a kid-free zone as well."

Keeping children out of that area will help prevent them getting burned if they get too close to the heat source, and keep them from knocking it over and avoid them bringing anything that can catch fire too close to the heat source, Kriwer said.

"When you leave the house, the room, or go to bed at night, remember to shut off portable heaters, especially if you have pets who could accidentally run into them and tip them over," Kriwer said. "And buy portable space heaters that have an automatic shut off so if they're tipped over they will turn off."

About 32 percent of house fires are caused by space heaters that tip over or flammable items that are placed too close to them, Kriwer said.

When using fuel-burning space heaters, always use the proper fuel specified by the manufacturer. Let the appliance cool off, and refuel it outside or in a well-ventilated area, Kriwer said.

Also, if the pilot light on your gas heater goes out, wait five minutes or more for the gas to clear out before trying again. Do not let gas accumulate and light the match before turning on the gas to the pilot to avoid the risk of flashback, Kriwer said.

Since fireplaces are such a popular way to keep the house warm, Kriwer suggested that people who use them often have them cleaned annually by a professional cleaning service.

"Fireplaces and wood burning stoves can get a buildup from combustible products," Kriwer said.

Make sure you burn only dry seasoned wood in wood stoves, make sure they have a label from a recognized testing laboratory, and keep the doors of your wood stove closed unless you're loading or stoking the fire, Kriwer said.

"It's important to properly dispose of ashes from a fire," Kriwer said. "Allow the ashes to cool completely, douse the ashes with water until they're completely out in a metal container with a tight fitting lid and keep them 10 feet away from any structure or flammable materials."

"Don't use a mesh cover, since ashes can get out," Kriwer said.

Last year, ashes that were still hot caught holiday wrap in a trash container on fire and the fire damaged a garage, Kriwer said.

Following these simple safety precautions can prevent property damage or injuries from a fire, Kriwer said.