Chimney Fires: A Serious Danger Year-Round

You may think of your chimney as an architectural adornment that provides warmth on cold winter days, but in reality, it’s a tunnel to remove dangerous flue gasses from your home. These fumes cause condensation inside the chimney, which in turn deposits creosote — a highly flammable chemical that frequently causes chimney fires.

As this blog has previously noted, the threat of chimney blazes in New England, and beyond, is real. Chimney fires can have many consequences, including tragic ones. In Massachusetts alone, in 2018, there were 556 fires involving chimneys, fireplaces and wood stoves, according to mass.gov. These led to one death and $3 million in property losses.

Additionally, the very nature of chimney fires makes them extremely dangerous, according to an informative website. The fires aren’t dramatic: they survive on limited air and fuel, meaning they burn slowly — and are often undetected until an inspection. Without the owner realizing what’s happening, these fires can melt a chimney, or make it crack and collapse. Then the fire moves into the house — and potentially, into the wood frame.

Lack of Diligence Makes Chimneys Risky

Chimney fires can strike anywhere. In February, a chimney fire in Plympton, Massachusetts, ignited the roof of a house, according to the local press. It took firefighters 10 minutes to control the blaze, and luckily, there were no injuries. “This incident could have been a lot worse and is a good reminder to make sure your chimney is inspected and cleaned yearly,” the Plympton Fire Department proclaimed on Facebook.

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How Long Can You Last Without Electricity?

Power outages are an unfortunate reminder just how dependent we are on electricity for, well, almost everything.

Outages can deprive us of communications, heat and other necessities. During the winter in New England, power loss can be a serious threat to safety, not just an inconvenience. A power outage while no one is home can also disable security systems — leaving homes and other properties vulnerable to thieves or vandals.

Many things can cause an outage, according to a Massachusetts government instruction guide. New Englanders are familiar with weather-related causes, including snow, freezing rain, high winds, thunderstorms and hurricanes. These outages can happen in any season and can last for days or weeks, depending on the severity of the damage.

Year-Round Power Outages

Winter snow, ice and violent winds are major culprits for downed power lines in New England. Earlier this month, high storm winds left nearly 90,000 people without power in Eastern Massachusetts, as a local news station notes.

One Rhode Island news station reported that trees through the region “snapped like toothpicks” from the gusts, which exceeded 70 miles per hour. In the Ocean State, 25,000 people lost power. More than 11,000 Bay State residents remained without power the next day — along with 35,000 New Hampshire residents.

Such extreme weather events can hammer us throughout the year. Just last fall, a so-called nor’easter struck and left hundreds of thousands of New Englanders without power, as NPR notes. The article states the combo of “heavy rain, strong winds and floods” took out power across three states.  

Both those incidents are dwarfed in comparison to the August 2003 blackout that affected not just Massachusetts, but states through the Northeast, as well as Canada. The incident started with a high voltage power line in Ohio brushing against some overgrown trees, says an article in Scientific American. The line shut down, starting a cascade of incidents that led to 50 million people losing power for up to two days. Other results included 11 deaths and a loss of some $6 billion.

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Shedding Light on Crime

You couldn’t be blamed if you assumed light (electric or natural) is an effective crime deterrent tool here in New England. After all, no self-respecting burglar would try to rob a house or a business where he or she could be easily observed and reported. 

If we look at some crime statistics, we might discover that just leaving the lights on isn’t necessarily useful — without an accompanying comprehensive defense strategy. In fact, according to an Alarms.org article, in 2015:

  • There were 1.5 million daytime burglaries 
  • And 1.3 million nighttime burglaries 

This means there was a 6 percent higher chance that a burglary would happen between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. than in the evening. The reason is simple: most people are away during the day performing errands or working. While night offers a certain amount of security to thieves, it also increases the likelihood that someone will be home. 

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Social Media Posting on Your Holiday Activities? Think Again

Sure, it’s the season to share gifts, time and presents — as well as information about all our holiday activities. However, we must all be wary of what we share with the public on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms.

‘Tis the season to beware of multiple scams, from phony gift cards to fake charities seeking donations, as this Walpole, Massachusetts, Patch article explains. There are also thieves looking for empty houses to rob.

Given all the risks surrounding us, we should do our part not to expose potentially high-value information to total (and potentially felonious) strangers. This includes any social media posts that tell the world our homes are empty and unprotected while we are away visiting family

Loose Lips on Travel = Big Risks

Traveling is obviously a major risk. It leaves your house and property vulnerable for hours, days or even weeks as you visit friends and relatives. As this blog has noted previously, telling the world on Facebook you’ll be away from your home for any length of time is highly risky.

Would-be thieves can seek out such residences on Facebook and identify temporarily unoccupied houses to rob during the holidays. In fact, the town of North Andover, Massachusetts, considers social posting on any travel information a “holiday hazard” and urges citizens to say absolutely nothing about their whereabouts.

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‘Tis the Season for Holiday Home Safety

The holidays pose unique home and business safety risks. With so much travel, gift procurement and giving, thieves have an excellent opportunity to strike our homes and small businesses.

A recent Boston 25 article states the challenge like this: “While the holidays are a great time to sit back, relax and enjoy time with family and friends, it is also prime time for criminals to act. Whether it’s an online scam or breaking into your home, when December rolls around the rule of thumb is to sleep with one eye open.”

New England Grinches and Trolls

Just this month, three thieves robbed the Christmas decorations from a Norwell, Massachusetts, garden center. According to 7 News, the act was caught on video. The stolen objects are valued at $150. “We don’t know why they would do it to us,” says the store’s co-owner. “We’re honest people here, we work hard and we just want everybody to be happy.”

Naturally, the risk to our homes and businesses exists year-round, as the Boston 25 piece explains. One of Boston’s Back Bay residents, who operates a fitness studio on the first floor of his apartment house, installed a camera at his building’s entrance.

The results of his surveillance were shocking, amounting to “a revolving door of criminal activity.” He also says he lost count of “recent run-ins with trespassers and thieves in his front vestibule.” The holidays can exacerbate these dangers.

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Holiday Safety Includes Protecting Gifts

‘Tis the season for giving. For a small group of criminals, it’s also the time of taking — especially unattended packages left on front steps by Amazon and other delivery drivers. With the proliferation of online retail shopping, more and more gifts wind up on the front porch awaiting their recipients.

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Keep Your Home Safe from Carbon Monoxide

Winter is here, and we’ve already weathered our first big snowstorm of the season. Now, as temperatures keep dropping and the weather becomes more inclement, we New Englanders will be spending more and more time indoors.

This also means we need to be doubly on the alert about carbon monoxide — the “silent killer.” As this blog has noted previously, carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless and odorless gas. It leaks from common heating and lighting sources, like faulty furnaces, portable generators, stoves, lanterns and gas ranges.

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Keep Thanksgiving Safe: Follow These Tips

With Halloween behind us, the holiday season has officially begun. It’s now time to think about home and travel safety in the midst of this season’s hustle and bustle.

Getting together with family and friends can be hectic, and the potential for accidents skyrockets with children running around, large dinners prepared and the fireplace roaring. As this blog has previously noted, Thanksgiving Day is the most common day for kitchen fires. Cooking accidents are the leading cause (77 percent) of Thanksgiving house fires in the United States.

That’s not even to mention the risks of traveling. Between heavy traffic, weather and other factors, Thanksgiving travel demands special precautions, as this safety checklist from a law office notes. Unfortunately, alcohol-related accidents caused 800 deaths between 2012 and 2016 during Thanksgiving alone.

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Defending Against Cyberbullying

In 21st century New England, protecting our loved ones’ lives and wellbeing must factor in new digital threats. Complete strangers can reach into our homes electronically, defeating any physical safety system we’ve installed.

And with the proliferation of smartphones, tablets and social media platforms, the risk of cyberbullying – simply defined as inflicting intentional electronically enabled harm – only grows, as a guide on the subject illustrates.

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Daylight Savings: Don’t Forget to Check the Fire Alarms

Rolling our clocks back for the end of daylight saving time offers a reminder to check our smoke detectors and batteries. Fresh batteries and detectors will help protect our loved ones and property.

As an interesting Good Housekeeping article notes, the twice-yearly synchronization of our computers is, of course, automatic. Resetting our clocks and other devices requires manual intervention — so it’s a great policy to simultaneously and routinely check our smoke alarms’ power sources, too.

The Risk of Fire

Why should you add battery checkup to your list of things to do? Well, according to a survey cited in the article, only 57 percent of those who owned fire alarms had followed best practices and checked their alarms in the six months prior to being polled.

The U.S. Consumer Protection Agency echoes the findings of the magazine article, noting that in the United States, annually, there are:

  • About 330,000 home fires
  • Roughly 2,200 deaths
  • Some 11,000 emergency-room related injuries

Maintaining Smoke Alarms

Proper installation and maintenance of smoke alarms will reduce risk. When adding the alarm test to your daylight-saving time to-do list, there are some best practices to observe that will reduce risks and make the process more streamlined.

According to Good Housekeeping:

  • When removing the cover, lift it or twist it off — although sometimes the entire alarm detaches from the base
  • Replace battery with a new one (typically they are 9-volt)
  • Snap cover or battery back into place
  • Press test button to ensure it’s operational — it should emit a beep or chirp

While you are checking the smoke detector, you should also examine the manufacturer’s stamp indicating the year the device was made. Detectors lose their efficacy over time, and they need to be replaced every 10 years or less to remain up to code.

To go even further, install both smoke and carbon monoxide detection solutions. You can also procure monitoring services from a local provider who can immediately detect the presence of smoke or dangerous gasses and alert you and first responders.

But above all, make daylight saving time an occasion to consider safety as well as punctuality.

Next Steps

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