On the night of October 8, 1871, a pile of hay in a barn caught fire, and began the two-day ordeal known as the Great Chicago Fire. For two days, the fire destroyed the city. At that time, most of the buildings were made of wood, and between the recent drought and high winds the fire was hard to stop. It jumped from neighborhood to neighborhood, crossing bridges, rivers. When all was said and done, the fire burned over 30 blocks. Luckily, 140 years after the fact, we've learned our lessons and have smartened up a bit about fire safety. Which brings me to the "tips" part of today's blog. With the weather cooling down people are starting to move inside and use space heaters instead of air conditioning, stove tops instead of barbecues, and candles and matches are making their way out of drawers. Fire prevention and safety is a concern each fall, and it is important to discuss some tips for keeping you and your family safe.

The Home Safety Council is an incredible resource for safety tips. They have articles on keeping seniors safe, and even evaluating situations for babies and toddlers. What I'm looking at today is the page they have discussing how to reduce the chances of fire in your home. Here are some of the most valuable suggestions:

  • As their name suggests, space heaters need space. Keep them at least 3 feet away from things that can burn - newspapers, blankets, curtains. And make sure you turn them off when you leave the room or go to sleep.

  • Make sure your candle holders are sturdy, and not flammable. Using a metal or glass candle holder that is big enough for the candle and a bit of room can help keep mishaps to a minimum.

  • Install smoke alarms inside or near every bedroom, and make sure there is at least one on each level of the home. There are two different types of sensors in smoke alarms - photoelectric and ionization. It would be smart to have a few of both, or alarms that contain both types of sensors.

  • This is also a good time to check the batteries in your smoke detector...it does need to be done twice a year!

  • If there are children in your home, be sure that candles are only lit with adult supervision. It's also recommended that you blow them out when you leave the room.

  • Keep all matches and lighters in a safe place where small children can't access them. Every year, many young kids are burned from playing with matches and lighters.

For more information about home fire safety, or to learn more about keeping your home safe, visit the Home Safety Council's website at www.homesafetycouncil.org/safetyguide/sg_fire_w001.asp.

While the origin of the Great Chicago Fire is still being debated (was it a cow? a milk thief? a rogue craps game?), we can be assured that building standards, fire protection, and the fact we don't rely on lanterns can prevent such an event. Small home fires do happen, however, and it is important to keep these important tips and tricks in mind while planning to keep your family safe.