Heating system equipment failures are the second leading cause of home fires in the United States.

Heating system equipment failures are the second leading cause of home fires in the United States.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, an estimated 57,100 home-heating fires occurred in the U.S. in 2010, resulting in 1,530 civilian injuries and $1.1 billion in direct property damage.

Common causes of space heating home fires include lack of regular cleaning, leading to creosote build-up in burning devices and associated chimneys and connectors, failing to give space heaters enough space by installing or placing them too close to combustibles, and fueling errors involving liquid- or gas-fueled heating equipment.

With the fall's cooler temperatures rapidly approaching, heating systems will be necessary to warm our homes.

Use caution when using furnaces, heaters and wood burning devices and follow these safety tips:

* Wood and coal stoves, fireplaces, chimneys, chimney connectors and all other solid-fueled heating equipment need to be inspected annually by a professional and cleaned as often as the inspector indicates.

Creosote residue in the chimney caused by burning green wood or by the poor design of some wood-burning fireplaces can start fires, which can spread rapidly.

* When buying a new unit, make sure it carries the mark of an independent testing lab such as the Underwriters Laboratories (UL).

Be sure that a qualified technician installs the unit or checks that the unit has been installed properly.

* Install or place portable space heaters at least 3-feet from anything that can burn, such as newspaper, cloth and furniture. Always turn them off before leaving the room or going to sleep.

* Never use gasoline or flammable liquids to start a fire or rekindle a small one in a fireplace because of the danger of fire spreading throughout the room and causing injury.

* Use a sturdy fireplace screen to keep sparks from flying into the room.

Allow ashes from the fireplace to cool completely before disposing of them in a tightly covered metal container, never in boxes or bags.

* Portable kerosene heaters must be fueled only in a well-ventilated area, free of flame and other heat sources, and only when the device has cooled completely.

Use only the type of kerosene specified by the manufacturer for that device, and never use gasoline instead of kerosene.

Washington Township Fire Department Fire Marshal Alan Perkins submitted the Smoke Signals column.