As winter temperatures get colder, area homes get warmer as residents turn on heating units to chase the chill away. But improper use of heating systems can cause fire, injury or even death.
According to Monett Fire Chief Tom Jones, area residents need to be cautious when using fireplaces for the first time in a year.
"Flues need to be cleaned annually," he said. "Some people use brushes or chains to clean their flues, or they can hire a professional."
Flue cleaning prevents the build-up of creosote, a black oily substance that builds up inside of chimney flues when wood is not burned completely. Creosote is highly flammable. Hot oxygen from the fire can rise into the chimney, coming into contact with the creosote, which then ignites. Often the fire will spread from the flue to other portions of the home.
"Preventative maintenance is the key," Jones said.
Jones also cautioned against using kerosene or propane heaters inside the home.
"Unless they are rated for indoor use, they can put off carbon monoxide, which can be fatal," Jones said. "Charcoal burning units are the same way. They need to be kept outdoors."
Carbon monoxide is a silent killer. It is odorless, colorless and tasteless, but symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, fatigue and a feeling of weakness.
Jones also cautions residents to keep generators outside.
"A few years ago, a couple from Mt. Vernon died, because carbon monoxide fumes from their generator seeped into the house from their garage," he said. "Generators are best kept outdoors."
Another safety issue during the holiday season is extension cords.
"People use extension cords for their Christmas tree lights and then try to hide the cord under a rug," said Jones. "That causes the cords to become very hot and can easily start a fire. They get really hot that way."
Finally, Jones said space heaters are a common cause of house fires during the winter months.
"People should make sure their space heaters aren't placed near combustible items," Jones said, "such as drapes, clothing, paper."
So far this season, Jones said the fire department has not been called out to a lot of house fires.
"Things have been good," he said. "We like that."