January 29, 2014
We are in the middle of one of the busiest and most challenging seasons for local fire departments.
"Especially with as cold as this winter has been," said Albemarle County Division Chief/Fire Marshal Howard Lagomarsino.
The blast of cold weather has created less than favorable conditions for putting out fires.
"Our water will freeze and it becomes that much harder work on our firefighters," said Battalion Chief David Werner of the Charlottesville Fire Department.
But it's a job that can't go undone.
In the last two weeks, fire crews have responded to three house fires in Albemarle County alone that have destroyed homes and even taken lives.
While not all winter fires are caused by heating sources, firefighters say they expect to be busy during the winter months.
"When people try to stay warm, they use different types of equipment to do so," said Lagomarsino.
Whether it's a generator, fireplace or space heater, using any of them incorrectly can be dangerous.
"Space heaters are a big problem for us at this time of year," said Lagomarsino.
He says, if you're going to use one, get the kind that turns off when it's tipped over and automatically shuts down after a certain amount of time.
"A space heater takes a lot of amperage to run, so you don't want to hook it up to an extension cord. You want to plug it directly into an outlet and have that as the only heating source that's plugged into that outlet so you don't overload your circuit," said Lagomarsino.
Your furnace should be professionally inspected and serviced. At least once a year, you should have your chimney cleaned as well. Not doing so is the leading cause of chimney fires, thanks to buildup.
Lagomarsino also says to never put ashes in something flammable like a plastic bucket or paper bag.
"They may feel cool to the touch, but they still give off enough heat and they can ignite a fire," he said.
Werner says another simple -- but crucial -- step is making sure you test your smoke detectors.
For more information about how Charlottesville city residents can obtain a free smoke detector, click HERE.
To see a checklist from the National Fire Protection Association about how to "get ahead of the freeze" and make sure you're heating your home safely, click HERE.