Even though November and December are the worst times for house fires, a lot of tragedies happen in January and February in Michigan.  Hopefully, you don't still have your Christmas tree up! State Fire Marshall Kevin Sehlmeyer told us about some things to watch out for in the winter months.


  • Be sure to keep things like newspaper, rugs and clothing  at least three feet away from the flames.
  • Use a fire screen to keep embers and logs from escaping..
  • Make sure all embers are fully extinguished before you turn in for the night..
  • Clean the fireplace often, and if possible after each use.
  • Make sure the damper is fully open before starting a fire.
  • Don’t use accelerants, like lighter fluid or kerosene to start the fire.
  • Use hi-quality wood.   If the fire burns too slowly, creosote can build up in the flue.
  • Never burn pressure-treated or painted wood.
  • Make sure you’ve had the chimney cleaned.   It’s best to hire a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep. Fireplaces and chimneys should be inspected by a professional chimney sweep every year — and again halfway through the season for new wood-burning installations, such as fireplaces or wood-burning stoves.

Space Heaters

Space heaters should only be used as a temporary heating source.   A lot of tragedies happen because people are using them as a primary heating source.

  • The “3-foot rule":  Keep everything at least 3 feet from the heater.
  • Never leave a space heater running in a room unattended
  • An electric heater should be plugged into a 20-amp circuit, if at all possible.
  • An electric heater should never be used with an extension cord.
  • Manufacturers advise against plugging space heaters into surge protectors, extension cords, plug timers, GFCI outlets (the kind with the test and reset buttons), or really anything that’s not a wall outlet.
  • Keep away from curtains, papers, furniture, pillows, and bedding.  Sehlmeyer says he's seen fires where a sleeping person accidentally kicked a blanket off the bed into a space heater.
  • Keeping flammable materials like paint and matches far away.
  • If you have extra cord slack….resist the urge to hide the cord from sight.  Don’t stuff it under a rug or a couch.
  • You should also try to avoid pinching or bending the cord, such as passing it through a tightly closed door hinge.
  • Modern electric space heaters have timers or cell phone automatic controls.   But if you have an older one, resist the idea of using a light timer.  These are designed to work with a lamp that draws very little current.  Space heaters draw a lot more current.

Clothes Dryer

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, the number of dryer fires increases in the winter months and peak in January.

  • Empty the lint screen before every load. Thick fabrics and newer fabrics create more lint, which can get trapped in the vent, become a major fire hazard, damage the dryer or cause it to work inefficiently.
  • Remove all snow from the outside opening to the dryer vent. It can freeze the vent line, forcing the dryer to work harder, which may cause it to catch fire or create a build-up of carbon monoxide. Have the dryer and the vent line cleaned annually by a qualified service provider. Dryer vent professionals clean all areas of the dryer and vent where lint can accumulate, block airflow and possibly cause a dryer fire.
  • Do not overload the dryer. Instead, try to have small loads, especially when drying heavy sweaters, coats and blankets.
  • Never run the dryer while you're asleep or away from home.
  • Keep the area around the dryer clean. Clear the laundry area of clutter, especially flammables like gift wrap, boxes, guests’ coats, combustible cleaning supplies and rags.
  • Take extra care with pets. If you have animals in your home, keep the areas around the dryer, including underneath and behind, free from pet hair, pet beds, pee pads and other pet-related clutter.
  • Keep it cool. To avoid overheating the dryer, try using the air-dry setting or a lower heat setting, if time permits, especially with heavier loads.
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