Use fire safety as cooler weather comes

Space heaters, bonfires among things experts give advice on

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Northeast Florida is getting its first bit of cold weather this season this week. That has a lot of people pulling out the blankets, space heaters and cleaning out the fireplace.

It's important to safely transition to dealing with the cooler temperatures.

"Obviously, when a cold snap approaches as we have now, people will entertain the use of space heaters, and they need to understand they're introducing a potentially dangerous appliance into their living environment," Jacksonville Fire-Rescue spokesman Tom Francis said.

Giving space heaters space is key. They can be used safely, but where they're placed is crucial. They shouldn't be within three feet of anything like curtains, walls or furniture.

Any heater that has coils catches fire easier than a ceramic one.

"Something like this, just a small $20, $30 ceramic heater, if it tilts over it's not going to cause a fire," said Steve Proctor, who owns Proctor Ace Hardware. "It will just shut itself off, and if something falls on it, it's not going to burn it because it doesn't get real hot to the touch."

When it comes to outdoor fire safety, bonfires are a big tradition when it gets cooler outside. Those setting them should make sure there is only bare soil around the fire pit, clear any leaf litter or grass that may be around it, and use clean, dry wood for the fire, not any household garbage.

"When you have conditions like this with the gusty winds and the low humidity, the fire danger is so high and those things can ignite and spread fire really quickly," said Annaleasa Winter, of the Florida Forest Service.

The fire danger is very high in northeast Florida the rest of the week because of an extremely low humidity level and gusty northerly winds.

Bonfires are still allowed, but in Nassau and Clay counties they must be 165 feet from any structure. In Duval County, there is only a 50-foot restriction, but residents must fill out a bonfire application.

"You have to stay with the fire at all times," Winter said. "It must never be unattended. You must have a responsible adult and a water hose with the fire and monitoring it, and before you leave it, it must be completely extinguished, no smoke, no heat. If you follow those laws and don't burn on a windy day, you shouldn't have any problems."

Home heating isn't the only potential danger during cooler weather. As the holiday season approaches, decorations and more cooking lead to an increase in house fires.

That's why this timely reminder is crucial: Check smoke detectors this weekend when changing the clocks back an hour.

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