With freezing temperatures and snow at the higher elevations, it’s more important than ever for Socorro County residents who are turning on the heat to consider house fire safety prevention.

Shift captain, Daniel Pacheco, of Socorro’s fire department of 18 years, focuses on educating the youngest ones in our community in hopes to save lives.

“Kids are so smart now in days, so we can give them information so they can be safe in their homes and at least get their train of thought of asking questions at home like ‘Hey mom do we a fire extinguisher or a smoke alarm?’ Pacheco said.

When he goes to the schools for fire prevention week, every year, it’s important to him that the students have a positive interaction with the firefighters as he also tries to instill the importance of fire prevention. He said that it’s important for his fire department to stay “on top of their game” by keeping up with the newest information on fire safety.

“ I hope that the way we implement the new teaching method really hits home for them so they can understand that it is a really important thing to be fire safe.” Pacheco said.

Pacheco said his number one recommendation in house fire prevention is to have a smoke alarm and make sure the batteries are changed at least twice a year. He said anyone in Socorro can make an appointment with the fire department and they will go to your residence for a fire safety inspection, including checking smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.

Pacheco encourages families to make escape plans that include a meeting place outside the home should family members get separated. He teaches kids tricks like keeping bottles of water in bedrooms so that they could douse shirts or towels to put under doors to reduce smoke, in case they get trapped.

According to Pacheco, most of the house fires in Socorro are caused by space heaters. He recommends making sure heaters are placed 10 feet away from any objects and to make sure they are plugged in directly to an outlet. He cautioned that people need to be aware that newer buildings tend to burn hotter due to the amount of plastic used in construction.

“Space heaters generate a lot of electricity and if its drawing a lot of power on a certain outlet and it over loads, especially with space heaters they get really hot, that heat is going to continue to build and if it’s against a bed or a curtain it could catch it on fire,” Pacheco said.

He said another thing he sees is “piggy backing” where many items are plugged into one outlet which causes a dangerous situation of too much power getting pulled from one outlet and causing a fire. Another concerning habit he has seen is using an oven for heat, which can not only cause a fire but cause carbon monoxide poisoning.
“It’s important to try and be fire safe and if you don’t know something, don’t hesitate to call us, we answer the phone 24/7, if you feel like something is not right, call 911 and even if it’s at two o’clock in the morning we will go over and make sure,” Pacheco said.

In rural communities like Magdalena, volunteer assistant fire chief, Charlie Blaylock of the Magdalena Fire department sees a lot of house fires caused by woodstoves.

His top recommendations for wood stoves include making sure the wood stove has a double walled pipe especially where it exits the house (either the roof or the wall), he said the insulation reduces the radiation of heat against the construction material of the house which can catch on fire if it gets too hot. Regularly cleaning the stove pipe is also important and can also be done fairly easily if you have the mobility to get on your roof, said Blaylock.

“Because we are dry it’s super important to have screens on the top of your cap to keep any embers from catching on fire around your house,” Blaylock added.
When it comes to disposing ashes Blaylock said that he uses two non-flammable ash containers that he rotates, filling up one at a time, so that when it’s time to dispose the ashes he know the first container has had enough time to completely cool off. He said that the transfer station in Magdalena takes wood ash at no charge.

Given that Magdalena has a large population of elderly and is more rural, two other important tips that Blaylock offered that people might not consider are ammunition and oxygen tank storage.

“We have experienced ammo exploding during a fire,” said Blaylock “ It’s super important to store your ammo in a safe so it doesn’t go off in case of a fire,”

As far as oxygen tanks go Blaylock said they should never be stored near any heat source and it’s important that expired oxygen tanks are disposed of properly as soon as possible.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration there have been 23 house fire fatalities in New Mexico this year.

For more information and resources on home fire safety please contact your local fire department. American Red Cross offers free smoke alarms and installation to all residents in New Mexico, visit: www.redcross.org/local/az-nm/about-us/our-work/home-fire-campaign.html