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Central Albertans are urged to be cautious as house fires are more common during winter months

People are home more cooking, using fireplaces, heaters
House fires are more common between December and March, Stats Canada has found. (Black Press file photo)

Central Albertans are urged to take extra care during the winter months as the latest residential fire-related deaths are higher between December and March.

Five central Alberta house fires broke out between December and January, causing thousands of dollars of property damage — as well as claiming the lives of two men and causing injury to others.

The two deaths were of a Mirror man, whose older home became engulfed in flames in December, and a 77-year-old Innisfail man who succumbed to his injuries after flames broke out in his home.

Earlier in January, a blaze broke out in the basement of an Eastview home in Red Deer, injuring the homeowner. There were also house fires in Lacombe and Ponoka.

When analyzing the period between 2011 and 2020, Statistics Canada finds there are 220 fire-related fatalities in a typical year, with the largest number occurring in January, states a release from AMA Insurance.

“The common things we do to stay cozy can also be the riskiest,” says Julie Pawlychyn, Claims Manager with AMA Insurance. “Plugging in a space heater, lighting the fireplace, or using scented candles can all be fire hazards if precautions aren’t taken.”

Assistant fire marshal Shane Dussault, of Red Deer Emergency Services, doesn’t necessarily see a dramatic escalation of fires during the winter months, but he noted people are staying home more and cooking and smoking continue to be leading causes of house fires.

With more uses of portable space heaters and fireplaces, Dussault advises leaving a metre clearance around the heaters and ensuring they have an automatic safety switch-off, in case they tip over.

Fireplaces should in regularly inspected to ensure they are in good working condition and the chimneys aren’t worn out, he added. The area around the hearth should be cleared and chimneys checked for debris or creosote deposits.

Dussault’s biggest concern is that many homes do not have working fire alarms. He urges central Albertans make sure their alarms are in working order.

“People take them down and forget to put them back up… but this is your last chance warning.”

To help Albertans stay safe, AMA Insurance is sharing these additional tips:

- Always keep lit candles out of reach of children and pets and extinguish the flame before leaving or going to sleep.

- Leave at least a one-metre clear around furnaces and keep flammable materials, such as paint, in another location. Have furnaces regularly serviced and install a carbon monoxide detector for added protection/

- If your fireplace doesn’t have its own air intake, open a nearby window. And keep your roof debris-free, covering the chimney with a spark arrestor, available at hardware stores.