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House fires: Why to Take Them Seriously and How to Take Precautions

A Good Samaritan sees flames in the window of an apartment and calls the authorities. Firefighters rush to the scene … and wind up enjoying a good laugh.

What the well-meaning tipster saw turned out to be a fireplace DVD, one of those novelty videos that simulate the appearance of a cozy fire on your TV screen. Emergency responders even wound up staying at the scene for a while to enjoy the relaxing video.

This lighter-side-of-the-news dispatch from Jonkoping, Sweden, reminds us that when the serious turns silly, the relief almost makes the initial concern worthwhile. Still, the fact that the firefighters in this story were automatically expecting a dire emergency reminds us that house fires are no laughing matter.

As fireplace season approaches, let’s take time to appreciate the seriousness of fire safety in the home.

The risks are real but reducible

Here in America, more than one-third of the population uses fireplaces, wood stoves and fuel-fired heaters as the primary source of home heating. Those figures come from the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

USFA also offers up a sobering statistic. An estimated 36 percent of America’s rural house fires are caused by heating accidents.

Fortunately, regular maintenance and a few simple precautions can cut down on your risk of a heating fire.

Keep your burns under control

Here’s a list of fire safety tips from USFA:

  • Have a certified specialist inspect and clean your chimney or woodstove every year. Regular cleaning helps control the buildup of creosote, a highly combustible substance created by burning wood.
  • Keep the area around your fireplace hearth clear of debris and flammable materials.
  • Use only dry, seasoned hardwood in fireplaces and woodstoves.
  • When you have a fire going, never leave the fireplace unattended.
  • If your fireplace doesn’t have glass doors, always use a metal mesh screen.
  • Before you dispose of ashes, make sure they have adequate time to cool.

Get help from a home security solution

No matter how many precautions we take, however, the risk of house fires can’t be eliminated entirely. The good news is that you can easily add another layer of protection with smoke detectors and alarm monitoring.

Online vendors like offer home security systems that you can customize to include heat/smoke sensors. Using a monitored alarm system, you can connect your home to an emergency monitoring network staffed by dispatchers trained to provide rapid response.

After all, not every report of a house fire turns out to be an entertaining false alarm.