NU Online News Service, Nov. 25, 9:39 a.m.EST

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The economy and a cold winter may create an increased risk ofhome fires as the public turns to cheaper, potentially unsafealternative heating sources, an insurer is warning.

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Philip E. Crombie Jr., managing forensic specialist atTravelers' Engineering Laboratory in Windsor, Conn., said the spikein alternative heating device usage over the past few years has ledto a steady increase in the number of times they are used orinstalled improperly, causing fires and malfunctions.

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Travelers noted that shipments of wood burning stoves andinserts increased by more than 80 percent in 2008, while pelletstoves and pellet fireplace inserts rose more than 160 percent overthe same time period, according to the Hearth, Patio and BarbecueAssociation.

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The insurer said high demands for wood heat devices is expectedto continue throughout this year and 2010 thanks to many consumerslooking to supplement their main home heating supply as a way tosave money.

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Additionally, Travelers noted an incentive from the federalgovernment offering a 30 percent tax rebate, up to $1,500 on thepurchase of wood and pellet stoves meeting certain efficiencyrequirements, makes purchasing these items more appealing.

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Mr. Crombie said, "With the unsettled economy, volatile homeheating fuel prices and typically cold winters in certain parts ofthe country, more people might consider alternative heatingsources."

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The Travelers specialist, who also serves as the fire chief inSouth Windsor, Conn., said, "Using supplemental heating devices canhelp keep costs down, but they can pose specific hazards if they'reinstalled incorrectly or used improperly."

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Among the problems Mr. Crombie sees are chimneys filled withdangerous levels of creosote, space heaters used with extensioncords that overheat, improperly installed wood stoves and fireplaceinserts, and kitchen ovens used as an extra heating source.

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To counter the fire threat, Mr. Crombie recommended installationof carbon monoxide and smoke detectors as well as placing stoveswith adequate space for installation, maintenance and replacement,flue or vent pipe routing, and relative to combustiblematerials.

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He also recommended hiring a licensed and certified professionalfor installation before emplacing a pellet stove.

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For space heaters, Mr. Crombie said there should be at least athree-foot clearance between the heater and combustible materials;extension cords, if used, should be those with 14-gauge or largerwire.

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Fireplaces, he said, need an annual inspection from aprofessional chimney sweep.

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Finally, he said kitchen ovens should never be used for warmth,and alternative heat sources should have been tested byUnderwriters Laboratories (UL).

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