2009-10-21 / Farm & Home

John Oxendine

QUESTION AND ANSWER COLUMN WITH GEORGIA INSURANCE AND FIRE COMMISSIONER JOHN OXENDIN

Q: I've heard that the number of house fires goes up in the winter. Is that true, and if so, what causes these fires?

A: The number of house fires and fatalities does tend to increase during the winter months. Two of the leading causes of house fires are especially common this time of year: home heating (particularly portable heaters), and cooking accidents.

There were four fire fatalities in Georgia last year in fires caused by some type of portable heater. So far in 2009 there have already been three fatalities in fires started by a heater, and more cool weather is on the way. While portable heaters are safe if used properly - please read the manufacturer's instructions carefully - they can start fires if placed too close to beds or other furniture. Three feet is considered a safe distance. Also, extension cords can be dangerous when used on an electric heater, since the current draw can overheat the cord.

Cooking-related fires have caused eight deaths so far this year. With the holiday season approaching, much more cooking will be going on in kitchens across the state. Many of these fires are caused by a stove that has been accidentally left on. If given enough time, a stove can heat a pan to the point that the metal melts.

That's why home safety experts recommend that you always set a timer when cooking, so you never forget to turn off the burners or oven. If a pan does catch fire, cover it with a lid immediately and turn off the burner. Don't attempt to fight a grease fire with water, as it may make the fire worse. While cooking, consider wearing clothing with tight-fitting sleeves. Loose clothing can contact a burner and ignite.

Finally, your home should have an adequate number of smoke alarms. Most fatal fires start between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., while the family is asleep. The advance warning of a smoke alarm may mean the difference between life and death. Nine out of 10 fire victims are already dead before the fire department is even called, mainly from smoke and toxic gases.

Please send your insurance questions to: Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, 716 West Tower, 2 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, Atlanta, GA 30334 or r call (404) 656-2070 (toll free at 1-800-656-2298), from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, for assistance with an insurance question.

Visit the website at www.gainsurance.org.

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