Year off to fiery start

More than 2 dozen fires reported since Jan. 1
Feb. 08, 2013 @ 12:15 AM

After seeing responding to more than two dozens structure fires since the new year started, local officials are reminding local residents of some precautions they can take to avoid being the next victim.

County fire investigator JJ Breeden, who looks into blazes that happen outside the cities, said there have been 23 fires in the county including 13 that caused serious damage. In Pigeon Forge, firefighters have been to five structure fires in the past two weeks.

Firefighters are still investigating two of the fires in the county, Breeden said, but most are believed to have been caused by electrical problems, or when someone was cooking or trying to heat their home.

With temperatures dropping below freezing most nights, there’s been several chimney fires, he said, and most of those are avoidable.

“The biggest thing people need to know is, you have to have your chimneys inspected,” he said. “We recommend every year you at least have somebody look at them. We recommend they have them cleaned every couple of years, but they at least need to be looked at every year.”

It’s not just smoke rising from a fire, he explained. The residue — called creosote — builds up over time, and it’s flammable. In fact, they can cause explosive, fast-moving fires that can quickly destroy a home.

Warning signs can include an unusual amount of smoke entering the house or more heat than usual coming from the wall, or a hot smell. As the build up starts to burn, it can make loud cracking and popping noises, Breeden said.

Chimneys that don’t have caps can also become homes for squirrels and other animals while they aren’t being used, and that can also create a fire hazard as well as leaving the smoke from the fire no place to go but into the home, he added.

Creosote also builds up in the pipes of wood-burning stoves, and they need to be inspected and cleaned regularly as well, Breeden said.

Cooking fires are more easily preventable, Breeden said — people just need to make sure they’re paying attention to whatever’s cooking.

“We recommend people don’t leave stuff unattended. Even if you’re still in the house, don’t leave it unwatched — especially if you’re cooking on a stove top.”

Those precautions won’t prevent all fires, of course, and Breeden urged everyone to also make sure they have working smoke alarms.

If they need help installing new ones, they can call their local fire departments, he said.

“We’ve been doing that for a while, and we can get someone out to help if they need it,” he said.

jfarrell@themountainpress.com