Commonwealth Journal

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November 25, 2013

Unattended wood-burning stoves cause two fires

Somerset — Two homes have been lost in fires over the weekend and in strangely similar circumstances.

Firefighters were called to two trailers, one in the city limits and one in southern Pulaski County, after blazes spread from wood stoves in the homes.

The Somerset Fire Department on Saturday was called to 212 Slavey Lane, off Ringgold Road, at around 11:30 Saturday evening. A trailer at the address was fully engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived on the scene.

Parkers Mill Volunteer Fire Department was called in for assistance for manpower and to deliver an additional tanker, according to Somerset Fire Chief Tyler Jasper.

Jasper said no one was home when the fire occurred, and he said the preliminary investigation suggests the fire started after the resident started a fire in the home’s wood stove and left the trailer for a short time.

“He started the fire in the stove, went out to the store, they came back and the trailer was on fire,” said Jasper.

Jasper said the trailer, which he said was “damaged pretty significantly,” didn’t have electricity hook-up yet.

Firefighters stayed on the scene of the Slavey Lane fire until around 1:30 a.m. Sunday.

The Tateville Volunteer Fire Department was called at around 5:30 a.m. Monday to a trailer at 344 Keno Road after a blaze was reported there.

Tateville Chief Jim Howard said the home was a total loss, and the family pet, a dog, was killed in the blaze. The Tateville fire appeared to have started near a wood stove as well. Howard said the family had a fire burning in the stove — no doubt to keep away the bitterly cold temperatures that swept in recently — and they left the home to aid a stranded motorist on nearby U.S. 27.

“They went to help somebody that broke down,” said Howard.

When the residents returned a short time later, the home was on fire and they were unable to get their dog from the home.

“They just lost everything,” said Howard.

The Burnside Volunteer Fire Department and Parkers Mill Volunteer Fire Department assisted on the scene of the Tateville fire.

Firefighters are warning residents to take extra care as the extreme cold sweeps through, resulting in heating systems  — whether that be wood stoves, electric, or gas heat — kicking on for the winter season.

“If you leave (the home) for any reason, there’s just too many things that could happen,” said Jasper.

Jasper said a fire, even if it’s thought to be contained in something like a wood-burning stove, should never be left unattended.

“Any unattended fire or flame has the capability of getting out of hand,” said Jasper.

The colder months bring with them higher chances of home fires thanks to the reliance on heating devices, which, if not properly maintained, can cause problems.

Pulaski County Public Safety Director Tiger Robinson in an earlier Commonwealth Journal article had several tips to home-owners for the cold months, including keeping a close eye on your heating equipment.

“Have your heating systems checked out, and make sure your furnaces have been serviced,” said Robinson.

“Dust will sit on the heater, and collect through the summer months,” he continued. “When you get dust on the coils and turn on the furnace, you get the smell of burning dust — some cases worse than others.”

Checking your fireplace and the flue is also important, if you have one. Robinson noted that birds’ nests or bats can become lodged in the chimney. Any gunk or debris inside can block the smoke from escaping correctly and can cause fire hazards as well. Check the chimney and flue for cracks as well — stray soot could suggest a problem.

And, in the case of wood-burning stoves, ventilation systems (not considered the same as a chimney) should be properly installed, i.e. it should be as short as possible, and it should never go through interior walls. The system should be cleaned regularly and checked for any build-up, which can lead to blazes.

“With the duct work, that’s something that ought to be checked out before using it,” said Jasper.

And with gas heating systems, carbon monoxide also becomes a threat, especially for those using gas heat, noted Robinson.

“When you burn (the heater) every day, you burn off the excess gas,” said Robinson. “But when it gets warm again, you’ll leave it off, and the build-up will create a problem. The starting-up process is probably one of the most dangerous times.”

Fire officials emphasize that having working carbon monoxide detectors and fire detectors in your home is essential. Fire detectors should be on every level of your home and inside and outside each sleeping area.

Also keep a close eye on electric heaters, which tend to be dangerous and prone to fires. Keep them away from water and not unattended if at all possible, and don’t overload the electrical circuit. Be selective with the extension cords you use, as they might not all be safe for electric heater use.

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