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Friday, October 4, 2019

Where's the Fire?

By Catherine Powell

Image courtesy PxHere
While cavemen both revered and feared it, fire is a tool that has literally taken mankind to the Moon and back. It also makes modern conveniences such as the internal combustion engine possible.  Where would our world be without it?  The problem with fire is that it’s a two-edged sword.  While it empowers our society, it can just as easily damage or destroy great swaths of it in no time at all.  To put the matter into perspective, I decided to put this week’s blog to the test, as well as the torch, to explore the many facets of fire.

1.      Hearth & Home – If you’re like me, in a few months when the temperature has fallen substantially and the nights elicit a certain nip in the air, you too will yearn to light a fire in the hearth to help brighten up winter’s gloom.  While having a fireplace is more an affectation than a necessity here in Florida, many homes in the area have them.  There’s nothing like cozying up to a roaring fire at the end of a long hard day, especially when you consider that it gets dark shortly after five o’clock in the dead of winter.  Even though all modern homes come equipped with high-efficiency climate control systems, many homeowners still harken back to yesteryear when winter rolls around.  If your home has a fireplace, the secret to enjoying it is to make sure it is safe to operate.  Believe it or not, one of the reasons fire calls spike every winter is due to house fires caused by improperly maintained hearths.  Before you start stacking yours with kindling, take the time to check to make sure that the flue is open and the chimney is free of debris.  If you haven’t had your chimney swept in ten years or more, it also wouldn’t be a bad idea to have it cleaned, since creosote is highly flammable.  Last but not least, before you clean out the ashes from your fireplace, make absolutely certain that there are no live embers buried deep within them.       

Image courtesy Pexels
2.      The Backyard Barbecue – Another benefit of living in Florida is because it’s one of the few places in the country where you can barbecue all year long.  Whether you prefer a gas grill or insist on using charcoal whenever you cookout, there are a few things you need to take into consideration before you break out the hotdogs and Bubba burgers.  Like fireplace ash, spent charcoal holds heat inside much longer than most people think.  It can take as long as 24-hours for the embers to die and the coals to cool completely.  Clean out your barbecue too early and you could wind up with a trash fire in no time. 

Even lighting a charcoal grill can be hazardous if you don’t know what you’re doing, especially if you use lighter fluid to prime the coals.  It isn’t unusual for ER doctors to wind up treating adults and children who ventured to close to a grill when it was lit.  Gas grills can even be more dangerous, especially if they haven’t been well-maintained.  If the gas line comes loose from the propane tank, when you turn on the valve and hit the igniter you could wind up having your grill catch fire or explode.  If your gas grill is more than a year old, check the gas lines to make sure it’s safe to operate.  The best way to do this is to keep the burners off and turn on the gas.  If you hear a hiss, you have a leak.  Shut the gas off and fix the problem before it fixes you.

Image courtesy Pixabay
3.      Leaf Litter – While falling leaves in Florida aren’t as big of a problem as they are further north, in most Florida counties it is illegal to burn leaves or any other debris outdoors.  The reason for a burn ban is obvious.   A fire set on a property isn’t necessarily going to stay on the property.  In 2015, a Jacksonville resident found this out the hard way when he spawned a brush fire that began after he burned items in a backyard fire-pit only to have the fire spread from his yard to a neighboring property.  The homeowner who spawned the fire admitted he went inside after thinking the fire was out.  His neighbors reported windblown flames more than two-stories high soon threatened their home.  The fire department was called out to put out the blaze.  The homeowner who caused the fire was then fined $150.  Had the flames reached his neighbors home, he would have been responsible for the damage to that properties as well.

4.      House Afire – For many people, their home is their biggest investment.  When it comes to house fires, remember that what takes years to build takes only minutes for fire to destroy.  In the US alone, there are more than 358,000 house fires annually.  That’s according to the National Fire Protection Association.  The reason this figure is so high is due to the many ways in which your home can be put to the torch.  House fires can be started by everything from lightning strikes to overloaded electrical circuits to improperly placed candles or children playing with matches. 

Image courtesy flickr
The most dangerous room in any house when it comes to fire danger is the kitchen.  More fires are started on the stove or in the oven than any other way.  If you wind up with a stove fire, the most important thing to remember is to leave it where it lies.  Trying to move a burning pot is the best way to turn a small fire into a big fire.  When it comes to stove fires, the best way to put one out is to turn off the stove and cover the pot or pan with a lid.  As soon as the fire runs out of oxygen, it will go out.  If the flames have spread to the cabinets or curtains, that’s a different story.  In that case, hopefully you have a fire extinguisher nearby.  If not, get out and call the fire department.  Whatever you do, don’t try to put out a stove fire with water.  It’s more likely to spread the fire than put it out.  The thick black smoke produced by many house fires is a hazard unto itself, since it can quickly disorient and incapacitate anyone in the room.  If you come into the hallway only to find it filled with smoke, get as low to the ground as possible and find the nearest exit.  Better to lose your home than your life.   

5.      Racing with the Devil – While car fires don’t occur all that often, when they do they can be particularly hazardous.  That’s because your car runs on gasoline which is not only flammable but explosive.  A fire that starts in the engine compartment can quickly follow the fuel line back to the gas tank.  If you ever see smoke pour out from under the hood of your car, pull over and run, do not walk, away from it.  Call 911 and wait for the fire department to show up to douse the flames.  Do NOT try to fight a car fire on your own unless you have a fire extinguisher.  Should the flames reach the gas tank your car could explode like a bomb. 

Catherine Powell is the owner of A Plus All Florida, Insurance in Orange Park, Florida.  To find out more about saving money on all your insurance needs, check out her website at


  1. When I was a teenager, one of my friends made the mistake of trying to carry a pot of burning wax out of the kitchen. She nearly burned her house down in the process.

  2. Fire is one of the most powerful forces in nature. We all need to frosty when creating and use fire.


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