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RISMEDIA, Feb. 26, 2008-Although spring is approaching, for most parts of the country, it’s still the coldest time of the year, meaning that everyone’s trying to find ways to stay warm. However, with home heating costs burning a hole in consumers’ wallets, this can present a challenge, which is a big reason that nearly two-thirds of all residential fires occur during the winter months, according to the National Fire Protection Association. This results in billions of dollars in property damage as well as thousands of injuries and deaths each year.

Fires can originate from many sources: too many electrical devices plugged into an outlet, portable heating devices, or roaring fireplaces. However, there are many precautions homeowners can take to keep the home fires burning safely. The use of alternative heating devices is a significant source of many winter fires.

“Fire departments and organizations such as the American Red Cross are at their busiest during the winter,” said Mike Convery, vice president and chief claim officer for MetLife Auto & Home. “Alternative heating devices, such as a space heater or wood stove, can be attractive cost-saving alternatives, but they increase the likelihood of a home fire occurring, if used improperly.”

The good news is, many fires are preventable, if the proper precautions are taken. To help minimize the likelihood of a fire occurring in your home, consider the following:

Keep a tight-fitting screen on your fireplace and obtain a professional inspection annually before use. You should also have your chimney cleaned on a regular basis to remove any debris.

If you have a wood-burning stove, make sure there is ample clearance between the stove and any combustible materials. Burn only dry, well-seasoned wood, and dispose of the ashes in a closed metal container outside the house. Do not burn trash in the stove – this can start a chimney fire. Never let a wood fire burn unattended or overnight.

With any type of heater, such as an electric space heater or portable kerosene heater, use common sense. Always keep the heater away from flammables and – although it may be tempting, especially in snow-prone areas – never accelerate the drying of clothes by placing them on top of the heater. Think twice, and use a drying rack instead. Have your heater serviced per the manufacturer’s instructions.

“The best defense is preparation,” said Convery. “Within our Claim Department, we see many winter-related claims that could have been avoided. To help avoid a tragedy, it’s important to review the basics of fire safety. It only takes a few minutes and it could save a life.”

For more information, visit www.metlife.com.

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