The furnaces turn on, the Christmas lights go up and the chance of house fires increases this time of year, local firefighters say.
“It’s been crazy,” Davenport Fire Marshal Mike Hayman said Dec. 5, the day a bedroom fire at 2621 E. 50th St. sent two adults to the hospital with severe burns. The cause still is under investigation.
Davenport tackled two house fires last week. Rock Island, Moline and Clinton also had their share.
The first week of December was a busy one for volunteer agencies in the region, as the American Red Cross of the Quad-Cities Area responded to 15 structure fires in its service area that affected 25 families from Nov. 30 to Dec. 6, according to the agency’s latest numbers.
“The biggest disaster threat to the American family isn’t a hurricane or a storm, it’s fires,” Red Cross spokeswoman Kasey Kelly said.
Red Cross volunteers assist families affected by fires by providing clothes and shelter. Nationwide in 2011, the agency responded to 63,000 fires, or one every nine minutes.
“This could happen to you,” Kelly said. “There are things you can do to reduce the risk.”
This time of year, the culprits almost always are the same, and firefighters say many of them are preventable with the right education.
“The cold weather and the holidays can be a dangerous time of year,” Davenport Fire Chief Lynn Washburn-Livingston said. “There are hazards now that you don’t see the rest of the year.”
Moline Fire Capt. Mick Dochterman said fires tend to go undetected for longer periods at this time of year. He suggested making sure furnaces are inspected annually and chimneys are swept regularly to prevent flash-over fires.
In the wintertime, more people are indoors and employing various heating methods that, if not properly used, can cause a fire, Rock Island Assistant Fire Chief Jeff Yerkey said.
“Space heaters can be a big problem, especially if people are using an extension cord,” Yerkey said. Instead of an extension cord, he suggested using the plug that comes with the appliance.
Yerkey said that to save on heating costs, people also tend to use wood-burning stoves and fireplaces. Those are fine only if they are properly vented and cleaned, he said.
Kelly suggested that each family have an exit plan in case of a fire, and the plan should take each room of the home into account. She added that a family also should come up with a meeting place once everyone is safely outside.
Washburn-Livingston said structure fires actually have decreased over the past couple of decades because of better education, improved building construction, annual business inspections and increased use of smoke detectors.