Carroll County has experienced at least two significant house fires in the last few days, an unfortunate reminder that fires in the home tend to see an uptick in the months of December and January when temperatures get chilly.

First and foremost, we are thankful that no one was injured or worse in these fires. While devastating, property can be replaced. Lives cannot.


No one injured in Bowersox Road blaze

Crews from New Windsor and surrounding fire companies were still working to control a house fire in the 1600 block of Bowersox Road, more than an hour after the blaze began Thursday.

The Office of the State Fire Marshal has not released an official cause of either fire at this point, and we’re not going to speculate. However, with these unfortunate events fresh in people’s minds, it’s a good opportunity for everyone think about fire safety in their own homes.

Overall, the number of total fires tends to decrease during the winter months, according to a study by the United States Fire Administration titled “The Seasonal Nature of Fires.” However, the number of structure fires — in homes, businesses and other buildings — increases during this time of year.

When temperatures dip outside, we tend to huddle inside and turn up the heat for warmth. This leads to an increase in chimney fires, fires caused by improperly using space heaters, and — particularly around the holidays — electrical fires that may be caused by festive lighting and overloaded outlets.

Another reason for an increase in home fires is that colder air contains less moisture. This means the wood of a typical home is drier in the winter, which may allow fire to spread faster once it is sparked, however that may be. Lumber naturally becomes drier as it ages, so older homes are a bit more at risk of fire spreading quickly.

Older homes that have not had their electrical system upgraded also carry an increased risk of an electrical fire, due to poor or deteriorating insulation. Depending on when the home is built, it might not have a system that can safely handle today’s electrical demands — televisions in multiple rooms, appliances and other various electronics. Having a licensed electrician conduct an inspection can identify any shortcomings in your system, or provide peace of mind.

You can take steps to avoid electrical fires by not overloading outlets and making sure cords are not frayed or cracked. Don’t daisy-chain extension cords, even for that fantastic Christmas light display.

Ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets should probably be installed in kitchens and bathrooms, and any other places in your home, like a workshop, where you might be using power tools. You can install them yourself, but if you aren’t comfortable working with electric wiring, it’s better to call a professional.

Beyond electrical fires, chimney fires are also common this time of the year. You should have your chimney inspected and cleaned professionally approximately once per year, depending on how often you use your fireplace or stove. Creosote, a byproduct of burning wood mixed with condensation, can build up in your chimney walls, causing them to catch fire. A crack in your chimney could lead to the fire spreading to the wood structure of a home.

Investigators believe Westminster fire originated in kitchen

Residents were displaced after a kitchen fire in a Westminster duplex on Saturday. No injuries were reported.

Fires caused by space heaters are also commonplace once the weather gets colder. As the name implies, you should give a space heater enough space around it — 3 feet or more — away from flammable items like drapes or tablecloths. Never use extension cords with space heaters and unplug them when not in use. Avoid tipping them over, although most newer heaters include an automatic shutoff if knocked over.

Finally, a majority of house fires begin in the kitchen. Never leave cooking food unattended and don’t keep dish towels, pot holders, paper towels or other flammable items near a hot stove. Take extra care if you are cooking with hot oil or grease, and be sure not to overfill pots or pans.

Make sure all smoke detectors are in working order as well.

These tips won’t prevent every fire, but they can greatly reduce the risk of having one.