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Over the past few weeks, significant fires across Harford County have caused families to be displaced from their homes and, in one incident, caused a loss of life.

While the circumstances, including the cause and origin, of these unfortunate incidents remain under investigation by the Office of the State Fire Marshal, it is a somber reminder that communities across the country tend to see a spike in residential fires every year as the temperature drops and the air becomes drier.

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“More of us are at home and the use of heating equipment, alternative heating equipment, and fireplaces become sources of ignition,” said Maryland State Fire Marshal Brian S. Geraci in a statement to The Aegis.

Colder air, which contains less moisture, is another reason for an uptick in residential fires. Wood that typical homes are made of is drier in the winter and this may allow a fire to spread faster. Older homes are a bit more at risk too, as lumber becomes naturally drier as it ages.

With the holidays and even colder weather on the horizon, it's a good time to think about fire safety.

That starts with Thanksgiving, which the National Fire Protection Association says is one of the worst days of the year for home cooking fires. In fact, a majority of house fires begin in the kitchen.

It’s easy to get distracted with family visiting, but make sure the cook or someone is in the kitchen when cooking food on the stove top. And avoid leaving the oven on if you have to leave the house, perhaps running out to the supermarket for that one thing you forgot on the menu.

Of course, we've all heard about the dangers of deep frying turkeys. Make sure your bird is completely thawed and dry before frying. Frying a frozen turkey can be catastrophic. Never operate a fryer indoors or leave it unattended. Make sure its on a level surface, away from trees and other combustible items.

If you plan to string up your holiday lights and decorations later this week, be mindful not to overload your outlets and to make sure cords are not frayed or cracked. Daisy-chaining extension cords is a definite electrical fire hazard.

Chimney fires are also common as the weather turns colder. Creosote can build up in chimney walls, causing them to catch fire, and cracks in a chimney can lead to fire spreading into a home’s wood structure.

Residents with fireplaces or wood burning stoves should have their chimney inspected and professionally cleaned about once a year.

For those who use space heaters to keep warm, remember to keep them away from curtains, tablecloths, blankets and other flammable items. Don’t forget to turn them off when not in use and avoid putting space heaters in places where they can easily tip over.

Even by taking all these safety precautions, the risk of a fire still exists, which means every household should prepare for the worst and ensure they have working smoke alarms and a fire escape plan.

“I cannot stress enough that all homes must have working smoke alarms on every level of the home, as well as outside and inside each sleeping area, and should be tested on a monthly basis,” Geraci said. “It is also vital to close all bedroom doors at night, have an escape plan, and if there is a fire — get out and stay out at a designated meeting place before calling 911 immediately.”

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