Stay warm, and safe, this winter

As temperatures drop and Kenai Peninsula residents gravitate indoors toward the comfort of their furnaces and fireplaces, firefighting professionals have some tips on how to stay safe while staying warm this winter.

First responders tend to see more house fires related to heating devices each winter, said Kenai Fire Marshal Tommy Carver.

“We do typically see an increase in specific types of fires because, during the summer months when it’s nice and warm, people aren’t using their wood stoves,” he said.

It’s also common that people will forget or forego routine cleaning of their chimneys, which Carver said should happen annually. From the buildup of creosote, a byproduct of incomplete combustion that comes from burning wood, to the occasional bird nest, blockages in chimneys create the potential for fires, Carver said.

“If the screen on top … has a hole or something in it, that’s a great place for animals to build a home,” he said.

A good time to clean chimneys out is in the fall just as residents are getting ready to us them again, Carver said.

Both the Kenai Fire Department and Nikiski Fire Department have chimney cleaning brushes of multiple sizes on hand for homeowners to sign out and use for free. It’s important to remember to measure the inside of a chimney, not the outside, since many are double-walled, Carver said.

A good way to avoid house fires is keeping belongings and firewood at a safe distance from wood stoves or furnaces, said Nikiski Fire Chief James Baisden. He said 36 inches of clear space around those appliances is a safe distance, or alternately whatever the manufacturer recommends.

Another potential fire hazard during winter months is the continued use of gas fired appliances like furnaces or boilers without regular maintenance, Carver said. Carbon can build up when these heating devices don’t burn efficiently, which could put them at risk for catching fire or emitting too much carbon into the air, he said. Making sure smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are up to date and charged is a good idea as well as getting heating appliances regularly serviced, Carver said.

The same goes for dryers. Cleaning out the lint filter after every load might not always be enough, Carver cautioned.

“A lot of lint actually makes it past those screens and into that ducting,” he said.

In the event of a house fire, Baisden said valuable time can be saved if residents make sure their house is easy to get to. Keeping driveways plowed and addresses clearly visible is a big help to firefighters, he said, especially during winter when sunlight is scarce.

“One of our bigger issues this time of year … is going to be having access to your property,” he said.

Giving clear directions to dispatchers improves ability to respond to a fire, Baisden said. He also suggested sending someone to meet first responders at the end of a driveway if it is particularly long.

Baisden and Carver also had some general wintertime advice for staying safe amid the ice and snow.

“This time of year we’re going to get lots of calls for slips and falls on the ice,” Baisden said, noting that most of those calls come in within the first few weeks of cold weather while people are still adjusting. The same goes for car accidents, he said.

Wearing cleats over one’s shoes and keeping extra winter gear in vehicles in the event of getting stuck are other ways to avoid the effects of cold weather, Carver said.

If residents do find themselves the victims of a house fire this season, Baisden said it’s important to be prepared and be able to make quick decisions.

“Most people don’t realize how quick it happens,” he said,


Megan Pacer can be reached at

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