With cooler weather coming, homeowners and residents should also be proactive and have their furnaces checked for issues before their first use of the season.


Wood-burning fireplaces can become lined with flammable creosote over time and should be cleaned and inspected by certified professionals.


In observance of Fire Prevention Week, which runs through Saturday, the Grayson County Fire Marshal’s Office gave some tips on how to keep safe.


Fire Marshal John Weda said this year’s week is themed, “plan and practice you escape,” which is particularly important because most people are unaware of the speed in which a fire can break out and become deadly.


“The time you have to make it out the house safely today is a lot less than it was 20 or 30 years ago — just two to three minutes before you can become trapped and the house starts to fill with toxic smoke,” Weda said. “That’s largely due to the synthetic materials in bedding and furniture, which catch fire more easily and burn much faster.”


Inside the home, he said there should be a working smoke detector in every bedroom and every other place a person might sleep. Smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors should be tested each month and their batteries changed as needed.


Space heaters are a common cause of fires during colder months, so Weda said users should always follow the manufacturer’s instructions and do their diligence when operating the devices.


“Plug them directly into the wall whenever possible, because extension cords and space heaters often don’t mix well,” he said. “Clear a space around that heater — at least three feet away from all flammable materials — and put it somewhere where kids and pets can’t knock it over.”


If a fire does start inside the home, Weda said it’s critical that occupants know how to react and to escape. Sleeping with the door closed to one’s room can slow the progression of flames and provide a few extra life-saving seconds to escape, but all exterior doors and exit points should be free from obstructions.


“In some of the older homes we go to, we often see that windows are screwed shut or they’ve been painted over so many times they can’t be opened,” he said. “Make sure kids can open their own windows and, if you’ve got a two-story house, make sure you have an escape ladder so you can get out from the upper floor.”


Once safely outside, all members of the household should know where to go and wait for help.


“Whether it’s a mailbox, a specific tree, or a neighbor’s house, make sure you have a point where everyone knows to meet and that it’s some some place the fire department can find you,” Weda said.


Fire Prevention Week began in 1925 with a proclamation for national observance by President Calvin Coolidge. The public-safety campaign is held each year during the week of October 9 to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire, which broke out on Oct. 8, 1871, destroyed more than 17,000 structures and left 100,000 people homeless.


Drew Smith is the crime and emergency reporter for the Herald Democrat. Contact him at asmith@heralddemocrat.com.