News photos of a 3 a.m. blaze on Manor Road show a hillside home completely engulfed in bright orange flames. Firefighters from the nearby station arrived in record time, but the horrific blaze took two lives, Laura Snyder-Gardner, a professor at Gallaudet University, and her teen-aged daughter, Mary Ann. The cause of the fire is under investigation, but Fairfax County Fire and Rescue offers tips about home fire safety, especially during the winter months.
Did you know that household smoke alarms have been required, by law, since March 1, 1985? Properly installed and maintained smoke alarms can double your chances of surviving a fire. Smoke alarms should be installed on each level of your home, and outside sleeping areas. Make sure that smoke alarms have active batteries, and replace nine volt batteries annually. Sadly, after a house fire, investigators often find that the smoke alarm had dead batteries. Smoke alarms should be replaced every 10 years. Test your smoke alarms monthly by pressing the test buttons. It’s easy to do. Use a broomstick handle to press the button if it is hard to reach. If you or a family member is hearing-impaired, smoke alarms that emit both sound and strobe light warnings are available.
Cold winter nights often mean more than just an extra blanket on the bed. Space heaters should be placed at least three feet from bedding, furniture, and draperies. In the past 10 days, at least two house fires have been attributed to unattended space heaters placed too close to combustibles. When using a fireplace, make sure that the chimney is drawing properly, and is free of cracks that might allow flames to crawl into adjacent walls or roofing. Always empty fireplace ashes into a metal container with a lid, and place the container outside, not in the carport or garage. Fireplace ashes can remain hot for days. Every year, improper storage of fireplace ashes has been responsible for winter time house fires in Fairfax County, including one last week in Herndon.
In the kitchen, never leave cooking unattended. The kitchen is where most home fires begin. A fire at a neighbor’s house started when a hand towel was left inadvertently near a burner that was still on. Fortunately, the fire was contained to the kitchen and caused mostly smoke damage, but it was a good reminder about how even the simplest mistake can have dangerous results. In microwave ovens, use only those containers approved for microwave use. If you have gas appliances or furnaces in your home, make sure they are checked for leaks by a professional. Carbon monoxide detectors also are a good idea if you have gas appliances.
Finally, always call 911 to report a fire. Get out of the house and then call on your cell, or have a neighbor call. Never go back into the house until fire department personnel say it’s OK to do so. Fairfax County Fire and Rescue is on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to respond to emergency calls – middle of the night or high noon. Call 911.