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Home disasters that could have been avoided

Most home damages occur during the winter season and the holidays, but all of these common mistakes can be avoided with some careful attention. Following are a few scenarios that happened to real people, and can serve as a reminder to all of us so we don’t experience the same thing.

A squirrel got in a house in Kansas City, Missouri through the fireplace damper while a couple was out visiting relatives for the holidays and caused over $10,000 in damages to their house. The critter chewed on everything in sight. A call to the insurance company resulted in a surprise – homeowner’s insurance does not cover “rodent” damage, so the couple was out of luck and had to take care of the repairs themselves. A local chimney sweep installed a top-sealing damper/cap combination which seals tightly and keeps squirrels and raccoons out of flues.

A man started a house fire when he burned his Christmas tree in the fireplace. The Blue Springs, Missouri resident wanted to dispose of the tree in January of 2012 and thought it would make good firewood, so he chopped it up and put the logs on the grate then started a fire. Within seconds, a roaring bonfire started shooting flames into the chimney where flammable creosote ignited. The heat and flames escaped the chimney and caught the house on fire, causing over $50,000 in damages. The Chimney Safety Institute of America warns people never to burn dry pine because it burns dangerously hot and fast. The National Fire Protection Association reports that 38% of house fires are caused by improper maintenance and installation of chimneys, fireplaces, and wood-stoves.

An Independence, Missouri woman inadvertently caught her drapes on fire when she left a candle burning in the home on December 19, 2013. The woman left the house and the cat tipped the candle over, where it caught nearby drapes on fire. Luckily, it happened just before the homeowner got back and she was able to put the fire out with an extinguisher. The Independence Missouri Fire Department says that many house fires are started by candles, and never to leave them unattended.

A Sunrise Beach, Missouri man removed ashes from his fireplace which ignited nearby trees two weeks later. In November of 2011, a homeowner removed ashes and poured them out onto dry ground in the center of his back yard where he thought nothing could happen. Two weeks later, leaves blew into the ashes, which still had live embers in them. The leaves caught a nearby grove of 30 trees on fire, and the local fire department had to put the fire out. Luckily the fire was contained before nearby houses were affected. The Midwest Chimney Safety Council cautions homeowners to use a metal ash container, remove ashes to a non-combustible location then pour water over the ashes to be certain no burning embers remain.

A Kansas City, Missouri couple experienced a house fire when their electric space heater ignited a blanket that fell next to it on December 18, 2013. The gas had been turned off in their home and in an attempt to keep warm the couple slept on couches next to a space heater. A blanket fell near the heater and ignited. Luckily, the couple woke up to a smoke smell and were able to extinguish the flames. Kansas City radio talk show personality Toby Tobin suggests using a Sun Cloud space heater which cannot burn anything that touches it and is much safer to use than standard space heaters. The National Fire Protection Association reports that 33% of house fires are caused by electric space heaters.

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