AUGUSTA — With cold temperatures on Maine’s doorstep, the capital city’s fire chief is urging renewed caution as people begin to heat their homes.

Augusta Fire Chief Roger Audette said simple steps such as inspecting a chimney, making sure smoke detectors are working properly and adding carbon monoxide detectors can go a long way toward ensuring a safe winter.

“October is fire prevention month,” Audette said. “There have a been a rash of fires across the state.”

Audette listed several steps homeowners can take to help reduce the risk of fire, beginning with the chimney. He said it is crucial to clean chimneys every year and to check to make sure they are in good shape.

“Every year we have 15 to 20 chimney fires,” Audette said. Last year two of those fires spread from the chimney into the surrounding structure and caused significant damage.

Chimney fires can lead to structure fires for various reasons, Audette said, such as framing being built too close to the chimney. Other chimneys, particularly in older homes, have no liners.

“When you have a chimney with no liner in it, it’s extremely dangerous when you have a chimney fire,” Audette said.

Sometimes homeowners, hoping to handle the fire on their own, hold off on calling the fire department when there is a chimney fire. That can have disastrous consequences if it spreads to the structure, Audette said.

“If someone suspects they’re having a chimney fire they need to call right off and get us there,” Audette said.

While it is important for those who burn wood to be particularly vigilant in the care of their home’s chimney, Audette said he has seen fires break out in chimneys where only an oil furnace was connected. He suggested regular cleanings of all furnaces and asking the technician who does the work to inspect the chimney as well to make sure there is plenty of draft to remove smoke from the home.

There are other steps homeowners can take to help prevent a fire, Audette said. He said it is important not to store flammable objects too close to any wood stove.

Winter is the busiest season for firefighters. Despite prevention efforts, fires still occur. Audette said it is vital that homes have working smoke detectors. A smoke detector to alert sleeping residents can mean the difference between life and death, Audette said.

Audette said people should make it a practice to change the batteries in their detectors every time they reset clocks to standard time in the fall. This year, the time change occurs at 2 a.m. Nov. 3. Moreover, he said, every home should have a carbon monoxide detector to alert residents to the deadly gas if a furnace malfunctions.

Craig Crosby can be contacted at 621-5642 or at:

[email protected]

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