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2/13/2013 - USFA, NFPA team up to thwart winter blazes

Though many homeowners may not realize, fires are prevalent in winter.

With whipping winds and subzero temperatures, the winter may seem like the least likely of times during the year that a fire can occur. But due to the variety of ways in which homeowners heat up their homes to compensate for the frigid weather, it provides the perfect backdrop for fires to thrive.

That's the message fire officials are attempting to get across to Americans over the next few months, as the United States Fire Administration and National Fire Protection Association have united to promote their campaign "Put a Freeze on Winter Fires."

According to emergency responder statistics, the beginning months of the year tend to produce more home fires than at any other time. A confluence of events helps explain this, including the increased usage of space heaters, home-prepared meals that require the stove or oven and keeping lit holiday decorations up into the new year and beyond.

"These are the months that we do see more fires than at any other time of the year," said Lorraine Carli, NFPA's assistant vice president of communications.

She added that there are a wealth of ways in which people can keep their homes warm without risking a small or large conflagration.

Cooking leading cause of fire in the home
For example, one of the easiest ways homeowners can heat their home - and save some money on heating oil at the same time - is by opening the oven door after baking something. This is allows the warm air to escape. However, it's easy to forget to turn the oven knob off before doing this. An unchecked oven can increase the chances of something catching fire.

Another way fires frequently break out is by leaving a burner on or unattended while stir-frying vegetables or boiling water. Spattering or liquid can bubble over the top, causing the burner to ignite and possibly lead to a fire.

This is why fire officials warn families to ensure that they never leave food that's cooking unattended. If one needs to step away from the kitchen, it's best to turn the burner off and come back to it later.

No matter what time of year it is, cooking is the number one cause of home fires, recent statistics from USFA show. Between 2008 and 2010, the most common source of residential structure fires was cooking equipment, responsible for nearly 40% of them in the two-year period. These led to property insurance losses of more than $7 billion in that span of time.

Space heaters are another mainspring of residential fires. NFPA statistics reveal that these portable heating devices account for approximately one-third - 32% - of home heating fires each year. These events can also be deadly, as four out of every five fires that start with a space heater end in tragedy, according to the association's "Home Fires Involving Heating Equipment" report released last September.

To help prevent these and other causes of fire, and USFA have put together an educational online tool that families can take advantage of, including a collection of instructional web videos, downloadable checklists and tip sheets. Click here for more information.

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