Firefighters urge caution after spike in house fires

LAWRENCEVILLE - With temperatures dropping, it seems like the perfect time to put the fireplace to use, but firefighters urge residents to be careful.

The Fire Department saw an increase in fires Sunday, and two of the fires were the result of fireplaces, said Lt. Thomas Rutledge, the spokesman for the Gwinnett County Fire Department. Another fire started after fireplace ashes were improperly discarded.

Before starting a roaring fire, Rutledge said it's best to hire a professional who can inspect and clean the fireplace.

"Home heating is one of the leading causes of residential fires in Gwinnett County," he said.

Other fire-starting culprits include wood-burning stoves, space heaters and furnaces, Rutledge said. These appliances should be serviced annually to ensure they can be used safely when they're needed, he said.

One Sunday morning fire in Lawrenceville started in a fireplace in a house on River Oak Place and spread into the attic through the walls, Rutledge said. Although the residents had smoke detectors, the batteries were not working. One resident was awake, and the three adults inside escaped unharmed.

A Sunday afternoon fire in Lawrenceville started in the fireplace of a house on Sandalwood Drive, Rutledge said. The fire extended from the fire box, igniting the wall and attic. When firefighters arrived, flames were breaking through the roof of the house.

The house was not equipped with a working smoke detector. A mother and her son lost their home but escaped the fire unharmed, Rutledge said.

It's important to put a smoke detector in each level of a home; it's ideal to have one in every bedroom, Rutledge said. The detectors should be checked weekly, and the batteries should be changed twice a year. Firefighters suggest changing the batteries when the time changes.

A smoke detector alerted a Lilburn couple to a fire in their Huntington Way home Sunday morning, allowing the couple to escape alive, Rutledge said. The man suffered a minor injury, but he was treated at the scene.

The fire was caused by improperly discarded fireplace ashes, Rutledge said. It's important to put ashes into a metal trash bin away from the house until they are cool. Putting water on the ashes and breaking them up by stirring them can ensure they are cool enough to discard of.

Had the couple not had a working smoke detector, the incident could have ended differently.

"When you're asleep, you lose your sense of smell," Rutledge said.

Sleeping people can't smell the fire's smoke, and the smoke has a sedative effect, keeping people asleep while they are being killed by the toxic carbon monoxide produced by the fire.

Having a fire escape plan is also an important facet of fire safety, Rutledge said.

Everyone in a home should have an escape route planned in case a fire starts. Families should also designate a meeting place outside and should call 911 from a phone outside of the home.

For additional information about fire safety, call the Gwinnett County Fire Department at 678-518-4850.