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Have a warm & safe Christmas season

Courtesy of John Stith Bandera County Fire Marshal

Texas Christmases are seldom white, but chances are the coming holidays will be cold enough for Hill Country residents to turn on their home heating systems for at least some of the season. And, with a house filled with holiday company, the last thing anyone wants is a house fire.
Home heating fires are the second leading cause of fire deaths in American homes - and the leading cause of home fires in the months of December and January. In Texas, heating equipment is the fifth leading cause of one- and two-family dwelling fires. In 2008, home-heating fires resulted in nine deaths in Texas.
"Home heating fires in Texas and the rest of the United States are mostly caused by human error, particularly through the misuse of portable heaters, wood stoves and fireplaces," noted Texas State Fire Marshal Chris Connealy. "Portable heaters are the primary means of heating in many Texas Homes. Heating safely in these homes requires correct installation, maintenance, fueling and operation of portable or space heaters."
Tips for preventing portable heating equipment fires include:
• Keeping portable heaters at least three feet away from anything that might burn, such as furniture, bedding, clothing, pets and people.
• Turning heaters off when leaving the room or when asleep. Don't leave children and pets alone or unsupervised in rooms where space heaters are being used.
• Realizing the dangers of drying clothing over these types of heaters or placing combustibles near them.
• Checking for fraying or splitting wires and overheating before using electric space heaters for the first time each season. If problems exist, have the heater fixed by a professional or buy a new one.
• Plugging space heaters directly into wall outlets. Never use extension cords - and don't overload electrical sockets.
Additionally, many Texas homeowners use space and wall heaters that burn propane or natural gas. With these types of heaters, the state fire marshal recommends:
• Ensuring there is an adequate air supply. Without an air supply, these heaters may produce carbon monoxide. When using an unvented space heater without an oxygen depletion sensor, keep a window or door slightly open.
• Making sure that pilot lights are working properly. Heaters with pilot lights that do not stay lit or those with controls that are hard to operate should be repaired. All inspections and repairs should be made by trained, licensed service technicians.
• Turning off the heater if the odor of fumes is detected, eyes are sting or at signs of dizziness and nausea; if flame is yellow and fluttering; and if the vent is not drawing.
• Not using space heaters with broken out-of-place ceramic radiants.
• Turning off all pilot lights at the presence of a strong gas odor. Additionally, do not flips any electrical switches, including room lights, and phone the gas company from another location. Small sparks from turning on lights or making a phone call could ignite gas.
• Refraining from storing or using flammable liquids like gasoline, cleaning fluid or paint thinner near heaters.
Finally, residents are urged not to use kitchen stoves, grills or other outdoor, fuel-burning apparatuses to heat their houses. Additionally, whether residents have central heat, a fireplace, wood-burning stove, wall heaters or space heaters - or any combination - an annual inspection by qualified professionals will help minimize risk and maximize winter comfort.
We want all county residents to have a safe and warm holiday season," said Bandera Country Fire Marshal John Stith.
Rumor has it the only thing Stith wants to see roasting locally this Christmas season are chestnuts over an open - but safely grated - fire. And, before roasting anything over an open fire, call the sheriff's office at 830-796-4323 to see if the burn ban has been re-instated.