Take precautions when burning, using heaters this winter - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

Take precautions when burning, using heaters this winter

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Fire departments get a lot of calls this time of year for out of control, outdoor fires. Both the Myrtle Beach Fire Department and Horry County Fire Rescue tell WMBF News that a lot of it is because you're not as cautious as you would be during the spring and summer burn season. So before you light up that bonfire or fire pit on a cool evening, there are some things you need to consider.

In the city of Myrtle Beach, open burns are not allowed at all. That means on the beach or in your backyard. Horry County allows open burns, but it has to be natural products, like leaves, grass and branches from cleaning up your yard, but pressure treated wood and non-organic stuff is a no-go.

Everyone is trying to clean their yards up, and if you don't do it properly, things can quickly go wrong. You may not think of right now as a dangerous burn season, but it is. Things are cooling off and the humidity is low, things are also drying out and it's getting windier. That can be very dangerous, because if any open fires get out of hand, you can quickly have a wildfire situation.

So take precautions. You need to have a water supply available, and you have to monitor it the whole time until it's completely out. 

"Try and get a line around it so that it's hard for it to jump, and possibly spread to the neighbor's yard, the woods, anything like that," says Lt. Chris Regan with Horry County Fire Rescue. "Obviously we'd like them to have a water hose. Something out there to where if it's starting to flare up, they can put some water on it, cool it down."

Before you even start to burn, you need to get a burn permit. You just call the Forestry Division at 1-800-986-5404. Leave the information of when and where you're burning, and they'll give you a number. That number is just so they can keep a record of all the burns going on. And if you know your burn might be extra large, it's not a bad idea to go to your closest fire station and give them a heads up as well. Firefighters in Florence County, where outdoor burns are also allowed, say that it is best to burn in the morning when there is higher humidity and less wind. That will help reduce any hazy smoke from the fire.

As the seasons change, it's not just outdoor burns you need to be cautious with. In the fall and winter, space heaters are the number one cause of residential fires, especially fatal ones. In 2010, there were 57,000 fires and 490 deaths in the United States because of space heaters, according to Myrtle Beach Fire Department Lt. Christian Sliker. So before you cave and buy one or bring yours down from the attic, you need to be smart about it. Clear the area around it. They need to be three feet from anything that can burn, like bedding and furniture. And that means it's not the best idea to keep one under your desk while at work. It's important to get one that is a suitable size for your space. You do not need to get the biggest one if it's going to be in a small room. That could actually increase your risk factor for starting a fire.

Space heaters now have safety measures built in that help to protect you. So when you're going out to buy one, look for tip-over and over-heating protection. And if you already have a space heater, make sure it's still safe to use. There will be a recommendation on either the box or the back of the heater for when the manufacturer says it is best to get rid of it and get a new one. Clean off all that dust that collected over the summer, and make sure the cord is good before plugging it in.

"The damage just isn't superficial," says Lt. Christian Sliker, Myrtle Beach Fire Department. "It's not just burning your house. The damage as much as property loss, loss of life, the stress you go through. We just want to make sure our residents in the city stay safe."

It's not just space heaters; with fall comes the opportunity to build fires in your fireplace. Just be sure to get it inspected and cleaned each year to make sure it's safe to use. And never burn indoors without a fireplace screen to protect from those popping embers.

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