Stay Fire Safe this Winter

Woman in living room reading newspaper in front of fire

During the winter months, heaters and candles contribute to an increased fire risk. Fortunately, there are simple steps to take to reduce the risk of a home fire. Properly installed and maintained smoke alarms play a critical role in reducing fire injuries and deaths.

Heating equipment is a leading cause of home fires during the months of December, January, and February. As would be expected, most heating-related fires occur during the winter months when heaters get turned on and the use of portable heaters and fireplaces increases. Fires caused by furniture, bedding, and other materials placed too close to baseboard heaters and portable heaters are the most common types of heating-related residential fires.


Baseboard heaters should have at least 12 inches of space between them and all combustible items which can include furniture, curtains, bedding, and books. If you use portable space heaters, make sure they have even more space!

Portable space heater tips

  • Keep portable heaters three feet away from combustible items.
  • Always place portable heaters on flat surfaces and plug directly into the wall, not an extension cord.
  • Always turn off the heater when leaving the room or going to sleep.


More than half of all candle fires start when combustible materials (such as drapes, clothing, and bedding) are too close to the candle. December is the peak month for candle fires and roughly 1/3 of all candle fires started in the bedroom.

candleIf you use candles:

Consider using battery-operated flameless candles, which can look, smell and feel like real candles.

  • Extinguish all candles when leaving a room or before going to sleep.
  • Put candles in sturdy metal, glass, or ceramic holders.
  • Place lighted candles where they won’t be knocked over by children, pets, or anyone else.
  • Keep burning candles away from items that can catch on fire such as furniture, drapes, bedding, carpets, books, paper, etc.

Make sure smoke alarms work

Smoke alarms that are more than 10 years old should be replaced. If your smoke alarm is battery powered, replace the batteries yearly or sooner if you hear it “chirp.” If the smoke alarm sounds, respond quickly and get out of the home before calling 911.

Free smoke/CO alarms

If you are a Seattle senior homeowner, you may qualify for a free combination smoke/carbon monoxide alarm. If your smoke alarms are more than 10 years old, it’s time to replace them.

For more information, visit or call 206-386-1337 or e-mail

This article originally appeared in AgeWise King County (January 2017). Subscribe for free at