BLOOMINGTON — House fires this week near Covell and in Clinton are, sadly, not unique.
"December, January and February, nationally, are the peak months for house fires," said Stuart Blade, public education officer for the Bloomington Fire Department.
The good news is there are steps that homeowners can take to reduce their winter fire risks and to reduce their risk of injury if there is a fire.
From Jan. 1 through Wednesday, there were 137 house fire fatalities in the United States, including three in Illinois, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. Whether that number includes the death of the elderly woman in the Clinton house fire late Tuesday isn't known.
"One hundred thirty-seven is not acceptable," said Blade. Matt Swaney, fire inspector and public information officer with the Normal Fire Department, agreed.
American Red Cross Central and Southern Illinois Region volunteers have responded to 112 home fires between Dec. 1 and Wednesday, assisting 409 people — 264 adults and 145 children, said Red Cross Regional Communications Director Trish Burnett.
"The number of responses is similar to the same time period last year," Burnett said. "However, the number of people helped is significantly higher because of several multi-unit apartments."
In nine of those house fires, 16 people, including four children, died, Burnett said.
"We're deeply saddened for all who were impacted by these fires," Red Cross Regional CEO Lyn Hruska said in a written statement. "Winter is a high-risk time for home fires and we urge everyone to take steps immediately to minimize the risk of a fire occurring in their home."
- Have a smoke alarm on every level of your home and inside and outside each sleeping area, said Blade, Swaney and Burnett. Firefighters recommend a 10-year, "worry-free" smoke alarm with a 10-year battery.
- If you already have smoke alarms, test them monthly. If you don't have a worry-free alarm, change batteries every six months.
- Have a carbon monoxide detector on each level of your home. Swaney and Blade recommend a detector with a digital readout so you always can see the carbon monoxide level.
- Develop a home fire escape plan and practice it so everyone in the family knows how to get out of every room and how to get out of the house in less than two minutes.
- Have your furnace inspected annually. If you have a wood-burning fireplace and if you use your chimney, have them inspected annually by certified inspectors, firefighters said.
- Have a fire extinguisher available. When shopping, make sure the model has been approved by Underwriters Laboratory (UL) and is a multipurpose or ABC fire extinguisher.
- If you already have a fire extinguisher, go to www.kidde.com to determine whether it was included in last year's fire extinguisher recall, Swaney said. Fire extinguishers should be accessible in a kitchen, laundry room or furnace room.
- Properly insulate doors and windows.
- Avoid using space heaters because they are not the safest way to heat a home, Swaney and Blade said.
- If you think you need a space heater, purchase one approved by the UL that also has a tip-over, shut-off function, firefighters said. Plug the space heater directly into an outlet and 3 feet away from the wall and from another combustible. Don't plug it into an extension cord or power strip because they are not designed to handle the current from a space heater, firefighters said. Don't place a rug over a space heater cord because it can melt the carpet.
- Turn off a space heater as soon as you leave a room.
- Don't use an oven or stove top burners as sources of heat. They are dangerous, especially if there are children in the home, firefighters said.
- If there is a fire, call 911 and assist everyone in getting out of the home.
- If the fire is small, such as a wastebasket or stove top fire, grab a fire extinguisher and try to put out the fire. If you can't, get out. A fire can double or triple in size in one minute, firefighters said.
- On your way out, close as many doors as you can. A door will hold a fire in that room for at least five minutes, Swaney and Blade said.
- If you can get pets out, great. If not, leave that to firefighters. Don't go back into a burning building, firefighters said.