Fire in St. George offers winter warning

By Bethany Knipp

ST. GEORGE – It’s cold outside, and fire officials are reminding the public that winter chill often means people are prone to have their homes damaged or destroyed in a surprise blaze.

Early Saturday morning, a home in rural St. George was destroyed by what started as a chimney fire.

The house at 3475 Burr Oak Circle, owned by Michael and Rhonda Eaves, was a total loss – estimated at somewhere between $200,000 and $250,000, Pottawatomie County fire supervisor Bruce Brazzle said.

He said firefighters initially responded to the chimney fire on Friday evening and left the property, thinking it had been put out.

But the embers burned in the attic insulation, rekindled and the house couldn’t be saved.

Fortunately, no one was injured.

About 30 firefighters from four departments worked to fight the blaze. The crews were dismissed at 8 a.m. on Saturday after a five-hour battle. The last units left at 2 p.m. after they checked the area one last time for burning embers.

Brazzle said the average number of structure fires in the county is between 30 and 40 per year.

So far, they’ve only responded to three or four this winter, which Brazzle said was lucky.

“Anytime cold weather comes around, the dangers of structure fires increase dramatically,” Brazzle said. “I told all the fire chiefs to be prepared for structure fires.”

Brazzle said the risk for fire goes up when people use space heaters, furnaces, fireplaces, wood burning stoves, electric heaters and kerosene and oil heaters. “The winter time is when you really want to cognizant of what you’re doing in the house,” he said. “Sometimes people get relaxed and don’t pay attention to things that are right in front of them.”

That means keeping blankets and flammable items at least three feet away from a heat source, said Mike Kaus, assistant chief for the Manhattan Fire Department.

Kaus said a majority of structure fires happen in the winter, particularly compared to other seasons.

So far, Kaus said the department has responded to eight structure fires with losses, some of which were from cooking.

On average, Manhattan has 34 structure fires a year, he said. 

To keep safe, Brazzle recommends changing smoke alarm batteries every six months, testing them every week, and not constantly loading furnaces with high temperatures.

He said it’s better turn down the thermostat during the day when residents are gone from their homes.

It’s also wise to only use one space heater in an electrical outlet, keeping flammable items away and turning it off any alternative heat source at night, Brazzle said.

Kaus offered the reminder that it’s important, when using a fireplace, to clean and inspect the chimney every six months. Dirty chimneys with too much soot will combust.

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