Home heating equipment is the leading cause of home fires and fire deaths during December, January and February, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Most of those fires are caused by human error, such as inadequate chimney cleaning, placing things that can burn too close to portable heaters, and flaws in the design, installation or use of heating equipment.

Northwest Fire/Rescue offers tips to avoid home heating hazards:

• Select heating equipment tested and approved by an independent testing laboratory, such as Underwriters' Laboratories, and then install and maintain it according to manufacturers' instructions;

• Have all home heating systems inspected annually and cleaned, if necessary, before the start of each heating season;

• Remember space heaters need space. Keep all heaters at least 36 inches away from anything that can burn, including bedding, wallpaper, clothing, pets and people.

• Never leave space heaters on when you are not in the room or when you go to sleep. Be sure children and pets are not left unattended around heaters.

• To keep your home fireplace burning safely, have your chimney inspected by a professional and cleaned if necessary. Creosote, a chemical substance that forms when wood burns, can build up inside the chimney and cause a fire.

Other fireplace tips include:

• Always use a metal fireplace screen that covers the whole opening.

• Burn only wood. Paper can float out the chimney and ignite a roof.

• Never use flammable liquids such as lighter fluid or gasoline in a fireplace.

• Keep the area around the fireplace and chimney clear of things that can burn.

All fuel-burning appliances and fireplaces produce carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless, toxic gas. CO poisoning kills at least 250 people each year, and sends another 5,000 to emergency rooms for treatment. To protect against CO poisoning, have appliances checked each year by a qualified technician and install carbon monoxide detectors, available at stores for under $40.

For additional safety information, contact Northwest Fire/Rescue Life Safety Office at 887-1010.

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