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With the recent spate of home fires, state fire marshal cautions homeowners to maintain heating systems

NEW LONDON -- Four families have lost their homes to fires since the start of the year in the Hawick, Maynard, Granite Falls and Dassel areas.

The most recent fire happened Jan. 9 near Dassel and caused major damage to the home of Martin and Nora Hendrickson. It is believed to have been started in the basement when their son lit some wood on fire with matches, according to the Meeker County Sheriff's Department.

The rash of early January fires does not come as a surprise to state fire marshal John Steinbach of New London.

Each winter brings a rise in the number of house fires as heating systems get more used and people spend more time indoors, he explained.

The cause of the fires that destroyed the home of Charles and Kim Savig on Jan. 4 in rural Maynard and the home of Jerry and Jessica Zwart on Jan. 8 in Granite Falls is undetermined, but both are believed to be accidental. The Savig fire started in the garage while the Zwart blaze ignited in the attic.

A New Year's Eve fire destroyed the home of Tim and Lisa Wendlandt. Family members believe a fireplace and chimney were its source.

Heating systems are one of the leading causes of house fires in the winter, said Steinbach.

The use of wood as a fuel is frequently a cause, but he's also responded to many fires that were the result of neglected heating systems using natural gas, propane or fuel oil as their fuel.

He said people have the tendency to turn on the thermostat at the start of the heating season and not worry as long as the house stays warm.

Having an annual furnace inspection by a qualified heating specialist is one of the easiest -- and most important -- steps toward fire safety, he said.

Making sure that homes have properly placed and functioning smoke and carbon monoxide detectors is also one of the most important fire safety recommendations he can make.

Steinbach said activities inside a home are the source for many fires and heartbreak as well, and he urges people to keep fire safety in mind at all times.

Leaving candles unattended, leaving combustible materials near heat sources or not keeping an eye on items being cooked on the stove are among the leading causes of accidental fires, he said.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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