LAFD Issues Heating Fire Safety Tips

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Brrr! Do the chilly temperatures have you dreaming of cozy gatherings around a brightly lit fire? Or maybe your home’s heating systems are working double time to keep you warm this winter. Los Alamos Fire Department (LAFD) says safety must be a top priority regardless of the type of heat source you are utilizing. Heating is the second leading cause of home fires. Follow LAFD’s suggestions to keep your home warm and safe. 

Space Heaters

“The biggest mistake is putting something too close to a heating source,” says Division Chief Joseph Baca. Keep anything that can burn three feet away from space heaters, fireplaces, wood stoves, and radiators. Remember that skin burns too. Make sure that people and pets stay three feet away. 

Only use portable or kerosene heaters that have been listed by a testing laboratory (look for the laboratory’s label). These heaters should have an automatic shut-off switch so that if they are tipped over, they will turn off on their own. Plug portable electric heaters directly into the wall outlet. Do not use extension cords or power strips. Kerosene heaters should only be refueled in a cooled heater outside. It is highly recommended if utilizing a kerosene heater that you have carbon monoxide detectors. 

Peak times for home heating fires are between the hours of 5 and 8 p.m. Turn space heaters off when you leave the room or fall asleep.

Fireplaces/Wood Stoves

Have your fireplace and wood stoves inspected before you begin using them each year,” Baca said. “Have the chimney cleaned to remove creosote, which can ignite and start a chimney fire.”

Use a tempered glass or metal screen over the fireplace opening to keep sparks inside. Never burn papers, trash or liquids. Burn only wood in fireplaces and only wood or wood pellets in wood stoves.  Openings to fireplaces or wood stoves can get hot enough to burn skin so keep children and pets far away from them. 

Disposing of Ashes

Improper ash removal from fireplaces and wood burning stoves causes thousands of fires in the U.S. every year. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), almost 10,000 fires are caused yearly due to improperly removing and discarding ashes. Hot coals are insulated in ashes and can stay hot for days. A little bit of oxygen is all that is needed for coals to ignite. 

Ashes should never be emptied in a combustible container. Some of these include paper or plastic bags, plastic buckets and cardboard boxes. The only suitable means for ash removal and storage is a metal container with a tight-fitting metal lid. For additional safety the LAFD recommends that spraying ashes with water before placing the metal lid. Store containers outside away from the home until ashes are completely cold, preferably on a non-combustible surface such as stone, concrete, brick or slate. 

Hot ashes should never be disposed of at the Eco Station or in your trash carts or dumpsters. Ashes should only be disposed of once they are completely cooled. 

Green Uses for Wood Ash

Wood ash from your fireplace have some great uses for green living. Wood ashes are high in potassium, calcium, sodium, magnesium, and phosphorous which makes for a great soil additive for plants. Place approximately a quarter cup of cooled ashes directly into the hole when planting. 

Wood ashes can enrich compost. Sprinkling a few ashes will be enough to enrich its nutrients but adding too much can ruin your compost. When used around landscaping or gardens, wood ash can help repel pests. 

Ashes can be used in the winter to melt ice and add traction without hurting the soil or concrete underneath. Ashes can eliminate the use of salt for icy sidewalks. 

Ashes can be used to clean glass fireplace doors. Take a damp sponge dipped in the dust to scrub away residue from glass. Ash can be used to clean brass and silverware. 

Always call 9-1-1 for fires no matter how small. For more safety information, contact the Los Alamos Fire Department at 662-8301, visit us at, or like us on Facebook at