The best way to prevent fires: careful precautions, officials say

In the wake of a San Marcos blaze that left five dead, area officials believe the best way for residents to protect themselves against fire is to take thoughtful precautions.

That includes checking smoke and carbon monoxide detectors within a house or apartment to ensure they are operational, keeping their batteries fresh and maybe even investing in a fire extinguisher for home use.

The number one thing Buda Fire Department recommends is installing a working smoke detector in all living areas of a residence, Chief Clay Huckaby said.

“Obviously, because they detect smoke and go off and alert someone in the middle of the night to wake up,” he said. “When you have a fire, the carbon monoxide you inhale tends to put you further asleep, and can get you to the point you’re unconscious.”

Huckaby said the recommended number of times a year to check smoke alarms is once per quarter, and to change the batteries out twice a year. An easy way to remember is to change out the batteries when the time changes for Daylight Savings, whether the batteries are dead or not.  He also said anyone with gas appliances in their home can invest in a carbon monoxide detector, in case a stove or other appliance were to be left on.

Having a fire extinguisher in the house is not a bad idea either. He himself has two in his own home; one under the kitchen sink, and another on the wall leading from the garage into the living area.

“We’ve seen fires start in kitchens that could have been put out much more quickly if they’d had a fire extinguisher on hand,” Huckaby said.

Fire extinguishers can be purchased at Walmart or a home improvement store and usually last a few years, he said.

Kyle Police Chief Jeff Barnett said having a fire safety plan for families can help keep them safe in case of a fire. Residents should know how to escape from a fire from each room in a house, and where fire extinguishers are located

Inspector Rodney Solis, with the Buda Fire Department, said fire safety plans should also include a meeting place outside of the home, such as a tree a safe distance away, for residents of a house or apartment to meet at in the event of a fire. Solis also said to not go back inside a burning building to retrieve a pet. Residents should leave that to first responders.

According to Solis, it is common for people stuck in a fire to jump out windows to escape; multiple people involved in the San Marcos blaze broke bones that way.

Anyone who has a two-story home or lives on the second-floor of an apartment complex should look into buying rolling ladders, Solis said.

“People never think to purchase those ladders you can get, but they allow you to safely get out and not have to jump,” he said. “In apartments, those are a good idea to have.”

Sometimes, preventing a destructive fire can be as easy as closing a door. Go ahead and shut bedroom doors at night, Solis said.

“If a fire starts in a bedroom, it uses up all the oxygen. A door that’s open and leads to another room is a fresh source of oxygen and allows fire to spread to other parts of the house,” Solis said.

When a fire starts in a room where the door is shut, it can keep the blaze compartmentalized into that one room.

“It’s all about buying time. The more time you have, the safer you’ll be,” Solis said. “Closing your doors is a good habit to form, just like locking your doors at night.”

Fires in the home are not the only blazes to look out for; in the midst of this record-breaking heat wave, Barnett said summer wildfires can pose a danger too.

Wildfires often have unlikely causes, he said, like a lit cigarette butt tossed out the window of a car or a chain from a trailer dragging on the road, causing sparks.

Barnett said anyone barbequing or smoking outside should make sure embers are stomped out, to take care that their trailer chains do not drag and that they are not burning when county-wide burn bans are on, or on windy days.

“The best ways to prevent fires is to be thoughtful in your actions, really the basic stuff,” Barnett said.

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