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Colder temperature increase fire risk

The decrease in temperature means an increase in the chance of a house fire.

“Oftentimes in winter, we see a lot of increase in home heating fires … forced air furnace, wood-burning fireplace or wood-burning stove,” said Marietta Fire Chief C.W. Durham.

He said heating units should be cleaned and inspected at least once a year.

“Make sure the vent pipes are free and clear to the outside,” he said. “Make sure the heating units are in working condition.”

Along with heating units, fire departments see an increase in house fires from overloaded outlets.

Durham said people try to run heaters through extension cords, which is a major fire hazard.

“They need to be plugged into outlets,” he explained.

“The draw for the heating unit is too great and it could overheat the cord itself.”

Durham noted people should clear a path around the heating device of at least three feet.

Children and pets should be supervised around heating units, he added.

“Another concern is live Christmas trees. They need to be kept watered and safe throughout the season,” he remarked.

“If they dry out, they can be a fire hazard. Make sure your carbon dioxide and smoke detectors are working to notify homeowners if something does go wrong.”

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Some people use unsafe heating methods as heating costs continue to rise.

Assistance is available for local residents who are at risk of having their heat disconnected.

Brandee Nau, community services manager for Washington Morgan Community Action, said there are two programs to help with heating costs.

The Home Energy Assistance Program is a federally-funded, one-time help with a utility bill. The Home Energy Assistance Winter Crisis Program is to help residents who are facing disconnection or have 25 percent or less in propane fuel oil.

“They may also have the opportunity to get a heating unit repaired,” Nau said. “We can pay up to $500.”

Assistance is available through March 31.

“We ask that people make appointments, but you can do in-person or by phone interview,” Nau explained. “We still need information, but we can get most of it by talking to you on the phone.”

She said when applying, people will need:

¯ Proof of 30 days of income for all household members;

¯ Social Security cards or birth certificates for everyone in the household;

¯ Copies of utility bills.

If a person is self-employed, WMCAP will need the most recent 1040 and Schedule I tax forms. If a person is seasonally employed, they will need proof of income for 12 months from the date of application, Nau said.

“Also, if they provide the birth certificate, they need to know the Social Security number,” she added. “If you provide the Social Security card, you need to know their birth dates.”

Once the one time HEAP benefit is used and help is still needed, the Salvation Army in Washington County is available to help.

“We are basically the administrators of Dominion’s Energy Share Program,” explained Lt. Megan Moretz of the Salvation Army.

She said Dominion takes donations all year long for the energy share program and Dominion makes the utility bill payment.

“You must use all other assistance first,” Moretz noted. “You must go to Community Action first. If you used HEAP and run into trouble again, we can do up to $300 with a shutoff notice.”

She said they see most of their people in the spring.

“The program technically starts Dec. 1, but since they must use HEAP first, we see them in March, April and May,” she replied.

The program runs through May 1 and because of COVID, Dominion has added an extra $750,000 to the program.

To apply for help through the Salvation Army, Moretz requests a call to set up an appointment. During the appointment, they will need to see:

¯ The disconnect notice;

¯ Proof of all income;

¯ Proof of Washington County residency.

“If the bill is in another person’s name, we have to see the ID of the person who is on the bill,” Moretz added.

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Holiday fire safety tips:

¯ Check all holiday light cords to make sure they aren’t frayed or broken. Don’t string too many strands of lights together — no more than three per extension cord.

¯ If you are buying an artificial tree, look for the fire-resistant label. When putting it up, keep it away from fireplaces, radiators and other sources of heat.

¯ If getting a live tree, make sure it’s fresh and water it to keep it fresh. Bend the needles up and down to make sure no needles fall off.

¯ If using older decorations, check their labels. Some older tinsel is lead-based. If using angel hair, wear gloves to avoid irritation. Avoid breathing in artificial snow.

¯ When decorating outside, make sure decorations are for outdoor use and fasten lights securely to your home or trees. If using hooks or nails outside, make sure they are insulated to avoid an electrocution or fire hazard.

¯ If using a ladder, be extra careful. Make sure to have good, stable placement and wear shoes that allow for good traction.

¯ Don’t use electric lights on metallic trees.

¯ Don’t forget to turn off all holiday lights when going to bed or leaving the house.

¯ Keep children, pets and decorations away from candles.

¯ If hanging stockings on the fireplace mantel, don’t light the fireplace.

Source: American Red Cross.

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