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Recent house fires seen as preventable

Published: Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013 10:39 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013 11:27 a.m. CDT
(CNA file photo)
This photo shows the destruction of a structure fire at a home on South Birch Street last month.

Four house fires in a nine day period is unusual.

According to Creston Fire Chief Todd Jackson, three of the four house fires that occurred in late December were attributed to overloaded electrical wiring.

“Obviously, in the last few weeks it has been the space heaters,” said Jackson. “When the wiring was done in the houses, they weren’t really designed for the average draw that was being pulled on them.”

Jackson said in one case, two space heaters were plugged in to the same outlet.

“That is way too much of a draw for that system,” he said.

A couple of the fires provided clues.

“One kept throwing the breaker continuously,” said Jackson. “If you have a breaker that continues to trip with an appliance, you may have a problem.”

According to Jackson, a second home was misfused.

“That’s when a higher rated fuse is used than what the wiring should have on it,” said Jackson. “So, if you have a 30 amp fuse, and it should have a 15 amp fuse, it doesn’t allow the fuse to trip out causing the wire to heat up, over heat and cause a fire.”

Jackson suggests understanding the limits of your electrical system and use supplemental heating with caution. He said some people use space heaters to isolate and heat one room versus the whole house. For others, their heating system is not keeping up, forcing them to supplement with space heaters.

“You’ll see space heaters used in rooms or additions that weren’t really designed as a sleeping areas, for instance, a porch converted into a bedroom,” said Jackson. “There wasn’t a heating system out there, so the quick fix is to use space heater.”

Jackson described space heaters plugged into light-weight extention cords, plugged into an adapter, plugged into a light in the closet as the main electrical source.

“People get creative sometimes,” he said.

Other causes of house fires are related to cooking, improperly discarded smoking materials, children playing with fire or matches, electrical weaknesses and large current draws with appliances.

Of the four house fires, smoke detectors were not activated by the fire because the fires occurred above the detectors in the attic area.

According to Jackson, smoke detectors are required by state law for both rental units and homeowners, however, residential sprinkler systems are not required.

In an ongoing effort to educate the community on fire safety and prevention, Creston Fire Department works closely with local school districts.

“Our largest emphasis is with the school kids,” said Jackson. “We start with preschool and do presentations up through fifth grade.”

Creston Fire Department also hosts open houses for families at the fire station during fire prevention week in October.

“We see thousands of students and hundreds of adults,” said Jackson.

According to Jackson, it is difficult to measure how much of an impact educating the public has made, but Creston Fire Department personnel continue to be proactive in creating awareness and educating others on fire safety.

And despite December’s alarming number of house fires, their efforts are working.

“Historically, our structure fires are down,” said Jackson.

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