Jerry Ragsdale shakes his head as he watches the morning news.

On the television, reports of a fatal home fire in Muskogee leads news reports. While the cause is still under investigation, it serves to remind Ragsdale that this is the season for house fires.

“Statistically, this is the time of the year when we see more home fires than we do the rest of the year,” said Ragsdale, Fire Marshal, Claremore Fire Department. “With temperatures dropping, people are trying to stay warm any way they can — unfortunately, those ways aren’t always safe, and sometimes can prove dangerous if not fatal.

“We’ve already seen a couple (of home fires) in Claremore this winter,” he said. “I’d like to think we won’t see any more, but realistically, we most likely will.

Frequently, space heaters are the leading cause of home fires between December and January, whether through misuse or improper maintenance.

“When persons turn on their heaters for the first time, they should make sure the filters are clean, and when purchasing new heating equipment, they should make sure its working properly and has been tested,” Ragsdale said. “We would discourage people from using space heaters because of the risk, but if they’re using them, they should never use them for long periods of time or leave them unattended — it’s not worth the risk.”

Ragsdale added that, if using space heaters, they should be kept away from anything flammable and checked for loose or frayed wiring before use.

Winter fires also can originate from unclean chimney flues, Ragsdale said.

“Before people light a fire in their chimney, they really need to have a professional, like a chimney sweep take a look at it,” he said. “A lot of times, birds will build a nest inside chimney without a screen, and residue can build up on the inside of the chimney that could catch fire if not cleaned.”

While Ragsdale said the frequency of chimney cleaning is determined by how often and the type of wood used (”Never, ever burn creosote — it’s the worst thing you could use,” Ragsdale said), its better to err on the side of caution than to risk a fire that could have been avoided.

“If using a chimney, people should also protect their families by using a sturdy screen while burning fires,” he said. “They should remember to burn wood only — never paper, as it can float out the chimney and onto their roof or the roof of a neighbor — and obviously never use a flammable liquid to start a fire.”

And another, not exclusive to winter, cause of home fires is smoking, which Ragsdale said is why a person should make sure they have a working smoke detector — throughout the year.

“It’s not an exaggeration to say that smoke detectors save lives,” he said. “If people don’t have a smoke detectors, we can provide them one, if they need us to change the batteries in their smoke detectors or test them, we can, and if a person is renting a home, their landlord is required by law for them to provide them with smoke detectors

“Many times in home fires, it’s the smoke — not the flames — that will kill a person,” he said. “Those deaths are even more tragic when they could have been alerted to the presence of smoke with something as simple as a smoke detector and working batteries,” he said. “I ask people, ‘Isn’t your life worth a pair of AA batteries?’.”

Ultimately, Ragsdale said a little common sense and a few precautions could prevent many home fires.

“We want people to have a merry — and definitely safe — Christmas,” Ragsdale said. “With just a few precautions, they can have both.”