December arrives tomorrow, a month synonymous with colder weather and the beginning of winter. It means furnaces will be working harder to keep your house warm.

Is your heater up to the task? Have you had your chimney cleaned within the past couple of years?

Chimneys and furnaces are a major cause of winter fires.

The U.S. Fire Administration says that in 2006, 11.4 percent of residential fires in the United States were caused by heating the home.

Of the total fire deaths in the U.S. during 2006, 3.4 percent were attributed to heating. Only fires caused by arsonists/suspicious sources, smoking, and open flames - including candles - resulted in more deaths.

Usually chimney fires can be prevented. In most cases, all that's required to be safe is chimney cleaning, preferably by a qualified chimney sweep.

It used to be that fire departments would clean chimneys as an annual fund-raising project. This was discontinued several decades ago because of fewer volunteers, the exposure to asbestos in older chimneys, and insurance concerns.

Now it is up to home owners or tenants to be sure your chimney is not blocked.

Not only is fire a concern, so is carbon monoxide, which can build up in a home because of a blocked chimney. Carbon monoxide also is deadly and every year contributes to many deaths. There have been numerous local deaths over the years caused by carbon monoxide.

The two things you should do to keep yourself safe in the forthcoming colder months - without any procrastination - if you haven't done so already are:

1. Have your furnace checked and cleaned by a professional.

2. Have your chimney cleaned.

These two bits of advice could prevent serious fire damage in your home. It also might save not only your life, but the lives of your loved ones.

By Ron Gower

rgower@tnonline.com [1]