Fire officials warn against using stove as storage area, and other fire hazards

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BENNINGTON — Late last month, Bennington firefighters responded to a fire alarm in an apartment on Grandview Street and saw a plastic trash can starting to burn on the stove. It appeared someone either forgot to turn off the stove or accidentally turned it on with the trash can on top.

The incident didn't cause any harm or damage, according to the Bennington Fire Department. The apartment's three occupants were not home that time, and firefighters tamped down what could've turned into a fire.

Another Bennington home wasn't as fortunate. A week earlier, on June 12, the kitchen of an apartment on Valentine Street was destroyed when some objects left atop the stove started a fire.

Smoke damaged the rest of the home, killing several pets, the fire department said. The two residents, who were out when the fire started, were left homeless.

Blazes that originate from objects accidentally being burned on the stove are more common than people might think, said Howard Cohen, deputy chief of the Bennington Fire Department.

Some residents apparently forget to turn off the flame, such as when they have it on low; others can bump up against a knob, turning on the stove without realizing it.

Cohen joined other fire safety officials in reminding the public to watch out for fire hazards.

The stove top is not an object holder

Some people, Cohen said, regard their stove top as a storage area for household items when it's not being used for cooking.

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"People look at their stove top as an extension of their counter top," he said. "Don't use the stove top as counter top, it's as simple as that."

Don't overload electrical circuits

In the summer, people are prone to overloading their extension cords by running appliances such as air-conditioners, electric fans and dehumidifiers at the same time. This can cause overheating, which could lead to a fire, such as when a cord that's fraying is hidden under a carpet, Cohen said.

State fire officials recently issued a reminder against overloading electrical circuits.

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"It is best to only plug in one high wattage appliance into each outlet," Assistant State Fire Marshal Joshua Maxham said, "and never use a power strip that is plugged into another power strip, which is also known as 'piggy backing.'"

If unsure which outlets share the same circuit, Maxham advised contacting a licensed electrician. The electrician can also help identify if power strips are being used as intended, especially those connected to high wattage appliances such as air-conditioners and dehumidifiers.

Power strips that are safe to use, he said, will include a label from an independent laboratory such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL), which certifies that power strips meet the minimum performance standards.

Burn only natural wood in your backyard, and make necessary preparations

Some folks burn stuff in their backyard as a convenient way to get rid of unwanted objects, such as old furniture or wooden knickknacks. But only natural wood should be burned in backyards to prevent the air from getting polluted with heavily toxic smoke, Cohen said.

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"All smoke is toxic," he explained. "But if you've got chemical elements of treated wood, processed wood, painted or stained wood, that will mean even more chemicals in the air ... We don't wanna be polluting each other, poisoning each other."

He advises people who want to build a campfire or burn brush on their property to ask their town office if they need a permit to do so. The town of Bennington requires this type of permit.

Before starting a backyard fire, Cohen said it's also important to have tools on hand that could put out a fire that goes out of control. He recommended a garden hose, as well as a shovel to put dirt on the embers and turn over the ashes.

Fireworks are a fire hazard

Lighting fireworks creates a spark that have accidentally started fires, Cohen said. Fireworks are also illegal in the state.

The Department of Public Safety's fire safety division says that all fireworks are illegal in Vermont — except public fireworks displays with official permission.

"Fireworks are dangerous and unpredictable, especially in the hands of amateurs," according to the fire safety division's website. Sparklers and other novelty smoke devices are not included in the ban.

When asked how ordinary residents can safely light fireworks, especially with the arrival of the July Fourth weekend, Cohen's only response was: "Don't."

Contact Tiffany Tan at ttan@benningtonbanner.com or @tiffgtan on Facebook and Twitter.


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