Thursday, December 5, 2002

Cape chief warns of fire dangers

Published in the Current

Cape Elizabeth Fire Chief Philip McGouldrick is warning town residents about home fire hazards, following a recent fire that could have destroyed a house on Woodland Road.

On Nov. 23, a Woodland Road resident put some ashes from his woodstove in a paper bag and put it on his back deck, McGouldrick said. Embers still alive in the ashes started a fire that caught the deck and the rear of the house aflame.

The resident was home and called the fire department before turning a garden hose on the fire, which helped keep damage down, McGouldrick said. But had the resident not been home, the house could have been ruined.

McGouldrick said ashes from a woodstove can stay alive even when they have been left alone for several days. “A hot coal in the middle of that ash will stay there for a long period of time,” he said.

Any ashes removed from a woodstove should be placed in a metal bucket and scattered outside the home, in a garden or planting area, he said.

When he does woodstove inspections, McGouldrick makes sure not only that the woodstove itself is safely installed, with enough distance between the stove and wooden framing of the house, but also that smoke detectors are working properly.

He said he also checks that the stove’s owner has tongs and a metal shovel and a metal bucket to properly maintain the stove.

This type of incident has happened before. McGouldrick remembers a “really bad fire down in the Oakhurst neighborhood” a number of years ago that resulted from woodstove ashes in a paper bag.

Ash disposal in dumpsters and trash cans also can cause fires, McGouldrick said.

He also warned parents to do fire drills with their children, citing recent national reports that children do not reliably respond to smoke alarms in the house, especially when they are awakened at night by the alerts.

McGouldrick also cautioned people to use care when using candles, making sure they are safely extinguished before leaving the home and also ensuring they are contained in something that will not ignite, if the candle burns low.

People should also take care that items can’t fall on top of candles accidentally, which could also cause a fire.