Fighting fire with prevention: In wake of recent blazes, fire officials give safety tips

Firefighters determined that the fire that heavily damaged the residence at 1105 Fairlawn Drive in Rantoul earlier this month started in the kitchen countertop area. The kitchen is the most prevalent area of the house where fires originate, Fire Chief Ken Waters said.

RANTOUL — Take care in the kitchen. And the bedroom. And the laundry room. And the attic.

Every location is a potential spot for a fire. Four major fires in less than a week in the Rantoul area raise the spectre that a conflagration can happen at any time.

Rantoul Fire Chief Ken Waters and Assistant Fire Chief Kevin Kaiser gave a few suggestions on how not to become a member of The Fire Club.

“The kitchen is still the No. 1” spot for fires, Kaiser said.

And it’s not just from unattended pans.

“It’s people leaving stuff on the stove or having too much plugged in. If you have a house built in the ‘50s through the ‘80s, they were used to 100-amp services. Now it’s 200-amp services. You’ve got electric can openers and electric ice tea makers. Everything has a clock,” Kaiser said.

The kitchen is a prime spot for overload.

Granted, homes are equipped with circuit breakers or fuses, but at times, the electrical items overheat before they blow the safety device.

Some people buy six-plex adapters to expand the number of plug-ins available, which can create an overload.

Added Waters, “They make those power strips, but you’re not supposed to have power strips in both holes and have 12 things plugged in.”

A Jan. 5 fire at 1105 Fairlawn Drive started in the kichen — resulting in the death of a pet dog and $100,000 damage.

Rantoul Fire Chief Investigator Chad Smith said due to the amount of damage, they were unable to determine the cause of the fire without a doubt.

“Based on the fire burn patterns in that area, the origin of (the) fire is on the counter top. I cannot prove whether it was the appliance or the electrical outlet that was overheated,” Smith said.

In September 2013, an electric problem took the life of a 58-year-old Rantoul woman in the 400 block of South Steffler Street.

Kaiser said the blaze was caused either by an overloaded extension cord or an electrical item. He said there were three extension cords with about 10 items plugged into one circuit. Nearby was a lamp that had melted.

Investigators were unsure whether the fire cause was the overloaded extension cords or the lamp.

Smoking in bed is another major fire cause, Waters said.

Just a month after the Steffler Street fire, a Rantoul woman died from what appeared to be a smoking-related accident.

Fire officials believe the woman might have been smoking in bed and fell asleep, causing a fire in her apartment building in the 100 block of West Letchworth Avenue.

Waters said unattended candles is also a safety hazard. In one local fire, a lit candle fell over onto a bed in a second floor room in the 400 block of South Garrard Street, causing $25,000 damage.

Plug-in air fresheners have also been known to cause fires.

Waters said Rantoul Fire Department has had “two or three fires from that.”

Waters and Kaiser also encourage residents to check the vents on their electric dryers to ensure they are clean of lint build-up.

In addition to checking your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors, check lint traps on a periodic basis.

A fire cause that has become more frequent is poorly made lithium batteries.

“They leave them in the charger. There are so many more electronic tools,” Kaiser said. “They’re being made not in the U.S.”

Kaiser said the cheaper sets made in China and elsewhere have only a thin plastic lining separating the batteries. The thinner the plastic, the more chance the cells touch, sparking flames.

“That’s what caused Mac’s Recycling place fire in Urbana — lithium batteries being cheaply made,” Kaiser said.

The fire on North Lincoln Avenue in November destroyed a building at the company.

Waters recommended smoke and CO detectors be replaced every five years, not every 10 years despite what manufacturers say.

Push the button on the front of the detector to see if the batteries are still good and look on the back to tell how hold it is.

And don’t rob batteries from your detectors to put into electronic devices, Waters said.

He said residents should also have their fireplace or woodburning stove flue checked and cleaned. Flues should be cleaned annually.

A fire in the area of the fireplace was blamed for a fire that caused heavy damage to a rural Thomasboro home last week. And investigators suspect that a fire that heavily damaged a building in the 100 block of South Tanner Street was caused by a problem with a woodburning stove.

Waters also  provided one other bit of advice: Don’t start your car and leave it running in the garage without the door open. It might not cause a fire, but the results could be serious.