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Tips to protect your home during this cold snap

Tuesday - 1/7/2014, 5:25pm  ET

How to use space heaters and fireplaces safely

Prince George's County Fire spokesman Mark Brady

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The dangers of candles, space heaters plus plumbing protection tips

Prince George's County Fire and Rescue spokesman Mark Brady

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The hazards of carbon monoxide

Marc Bashoor, Prince George's County Fire chief

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WASHINGTON - A chimney fire damaged a home in Waldorf, Md., Monday night.

Although there were no injuries at the Pine Lanes fire, fires like this are all too common during the winter months. And as the temps plunge overnight, local officials are reminding homeowners not too overload their fireplaces.

Alternative heat sources, those other than a furnace, are among the most common causes of home fires during the winter season. Decorative fireplaces or ovens that were never intended to heat an entire home and space heaters are among the common culprits. Gasoline generators and clogged chimneys can flood a home with carbon monoxide.

The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety recommends these tips to stay warm inside safely:

  • Maintain 36-inches of space between wood stoves or space heaters and other materials like furniture or clothing or bedding.
  • Do not leave a space heater unattended.
  • Electric heaters should be used with a heavy-duty extension cord marked "no. 14 gauge" or higher; never run the cord under a rug or carpet.
  • Never use gasoline in a kerosene or in an oil-fueled heater.
  • regularly clean fireplaces.
  • Make sure the damper is open and the screen is closed while using the fireplace; glass doors should be left open.
  • Never burn newspaper or scrap paper in a fireplace; never use gasoline or a liquid accelerant.

Prince George's Fire Department says you should not fill up your kerosene heater inside. Allow the heater to cool down completely and then fuel it in a well-ventilated area, away from flames or other heat sources.

Space heaters are responsible for about one-third of house fire during the winter months, but 80 percent of fire fatalities are caused by space heaters, says Mark Brady, spokesman for the Prince George's County Fire Department.

"That's because people use them in their bedrooms, they leave them on when they go to sleep, a fire starts, and unfortunately deaths occur. So when you go to sleep, make sure you turn off your space heater," Brady says.

Let the faucet drip

Temperatures in the D.C. area will be well below 32 degrees Monday night and during the day Tuesday and that means the water in the pipes in your house can freeze.

According to the insurance institute, frozen pipes are among the top property damage risks, as a burst pipe can cost more than $5,000 in damage.

Properly insulating your home and the pipes themselves can help reduce the risk. Keep garage doors closed and bring in garden hoses and turn off exterior faucets, according to the Red Cross.

Keep the furnace on, even if you will be away from your home, and don't set the thermostat below 55 degrees, to keep your home and pipes warm. Open the cabinet doors below kitchen and bathroom sinks, especially if the faucet is served by pipes along an exterior wall, to allow the warmer air to reach the pipes in living spaces.

Turn on the faucet so the water drips - flowing water is more difficult for the pipes to freeze.

Thawing frozen pipes

According to the Red Cross, the best way to thaw frozen pipes is to wrap a heating pad around the pipe or use a hair dryer. You can also wrap towels soaked in hot water around them.

As you treat the pipe, leave the faucet open and warm them until full pressure is restored.

But don't grab for that blow torch, warns Prince George's Fire Chief Marc Bashoor.

"I can't tell you how many houses I have seen burn up over the years from people trying to thaw pipes," he says. "You'll see people with blow torches, you'll see people with any kind of flame trying to unfreeze those pipes."

Prince George's Fire Department has posted more fire and space heater safety tips on its website.

WTOP's Mike Murillo and Amanda Iacone contributed to this report. Follow @WTOP on Twitter.

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