Staying safe while keeping warm in extreme winter cold

TOLEDO, Ohio (13abc Action News) - When it comes to fireplaces, John Luce knows what it takes to keep them burning safely.

The owner of Luce's Chimney and Stove Shop has been in the business of servicing and cleaning chimneys for nearly 40 years.

"We look for deficiencies in the chimney system," said Luce. "We want to make sure that chimney is exhausting 100 percent of the product's combustion."

When temps dip well below freezing, Luce says it's important to make sure everything is in order before you need the fire to keep warm.

"The chimney needs to be maintained because we have creosote buildup in the chimney," said Luce.

Creosote is a flammable substance that develops in chimneys from burning wood.

"When you burn wood, especially inefficiently, you create smoke and the smoke hits the insides of the chimney and the smoke condenses and forms into creosote," said Luce.

If left unchecked, creosote build up can result in a fire. One way to reduce that is by using dry or seasoned wood, which reduces build up.

"If we have seasoned wood then it's going to burn properly without just trying to dry itself out," said Luce.

Another way people try to stay warm in the cold is with space heaters, but firefighters say they can pose problems for homeowners, too.

"A large majority of fires in the winter are started from space heaters or devices that are left unattended," said Private Sterling Rahe with Toledo Fire and Rescue.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, space heaters were responsible for 79 percent of deadly fires in 2010.

If using a portable heater in your home, Toledo Fire suggests placing it on a flat surface, keeping a clear three-foot space around it and putting it where you'll remember to check it.

"You just don't want to start it and then leave it and forget about it. That's where people get into trouble," said Rahe. "You always have to be mindful that it's going and understand that it's a source that could start a fire."