Fire officials encourage safety checks ahead of forecasted cold weather

The cold front on the way will require Halloween decorations to be tied down and with temperatures dropping, jackets may be needed for trick-or-treaters.

For people like Crystal Storm, this fall change will be a welcome change.

"Absolutely. Absolutely. You know, it's nice to have a little bit of a chill in the air when you're wearing all those heavy costumes and running around getting candy," said Storm.

However, fire officials and safety experts are warning that the number of house fires can increase with a big drop in temperature.  

This is what happened at a house in Leander back in January. Investigators say it was caused by a propane heater. A disaster can certainly happen fast. 

So, before you flip the switch, strike the match. Safety experts say that there are some things that you can do right now to prevent that disaster.

"It's just such a wide variety of things that can go wrong," said AFD Division Chief and Fire Marshal Steven Truesdell.

A lot of emergency calls, according to Truesdell, come when heating systems are turned on and a dusty build up smokes. He recommends a quick thermostat check.

"When you don't have to run it continuously, you can just run it for a minute, turn it back off and then see if that lint or dust has burned off the element. Then you can run it again for a little while and just make sure that it's all cleared up," said Truesdell.

A fireplace safety check and proper use can also avoid a scare.

"People will throw, you know, all sorts of things, lumber and trash or whatever. And that tends to, you know, often generate a fire that's too hot for the fireplace and it'll get out of the flue into the wall," said Truesdell.

Smoke detectors and space heaters need to be in working order. Using battery powered candles are also a good idea.

"If you do use candles, just make sure, you know, if you have to set it on a timer or set an alarm before you go to bed, before you leave the house, make sure that all those candles are extinguished and never use them near flammable materials like curtains or, you know, sometimes in the bathroom they'll be near a towel and that'll start a fire," said Truesdell.

AFD also provided more safety tips:

Home heating safety

  • If you plan to use a wood stove, fireplace, or space heater, be extremely careful. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and remember these safety tips:
  • Turning on the stove for heat is not safe; have at least one of the following heat sources in case the power goes out: extra blankets, sleeping bags, warm winter coats, fireplace that is up to code with plenty of dry firewood or a gas log fireplace, portable space heaters or kerosene heaters
  • Use electric space heaters with automatic shut-off switches and non-glowing elements. Make sure to keep them away from any flammable materials, like curtains or blankets.
  • Use fireplaces, wood stoves, or other combustion heaters only if they are properly vented to the outside and do not leak gas from the flue or exhaust indoors
  • Have your heating system serviced by a qualified technician every year.
  • Do not burn paper in a fireplace
  • Use only the type of fuel your heater is designed to use—don’t substitute.
  • Keep heat sources, like space heaters, at least 3 feet away from drapes, furniture, or bedding. Never cover your space heater.
  • Never place a space heater on top of furniture or near water.
  • Never leave children unattended near a space heater.
  • Make sure that the cord of an electric space heater is not a tripping hazard, but do not run the cord under carpets or rugs.
  • Avoid using extension cords to plug in your space heater
  • If your space heater has a damaged electrical cord or produces sparks, do not use it.

Generator/Appliance safety

  • Generators should be located at least 20 feet from any window, door, or vent and in a space where rain will not reach them.
  • Never using generators, gas or charcoal grills, camp stoves, or similar devices inside your home, in basements, in garages, or near windows. The fumes are deadly.
  • Plug in appliances to the generator using individual heavy-duty, outdoor rated extension cords.
  • Do not use the generator or appliances if they are wet.
  • Do not store gasoline indoors where the fumes could ignite. If there is a power failure:
  • Use battery-powered flashlights or lanterns rather than candles, if possible as candles can lead to house fires. If you do use candles, never leave lit candles unattended.

Smoke detector safety

  • Ensure there are working smoke detectors.
  • Check for proper placement of smoke detectors – there should be one smoke detector inside each bedroom and one detector outside each sleeping area of the home in the hallway. Confirm proper placement by checking the manufacturer guidelines.
  • Check for proper operation and test your smoke detectors regularly. A good rule of thumb is to check/test the detector when we change our clocks for daylight savings.
  • Replace if older than 10 years

This cold snap essentially is a dress rehearsal for winter with a quick temperature bounce back in the forecast.

Crystal Storm offered this advice: "Do not panic. Just embrace this. Listen, you're going to have a week of really chilly weather. Bring those sweatshirts out. Enjoy it, because we're going right back to Texas Fall," she said.

Campfires in wooded areas set by the transient community is also a problem when it gets cold. An effort to relocate people to warming areas is expected.

Residents who see a fire in a wooded area are encouraged to call 911.