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The ABCs of fire extinguishers

The cold facts about home fires are enough to strike terror. More than 2-million fires are reported each year in the United States. Almost 4,000 Americans are killed in those fires and up to 20,000 are injured annually.

About 414,000 homes are damaged or destroyed each year by fire. Property losses from home fires exceed $4-billion, the National Safety Council says.

If you don't have a fire extinguisher or think you don't have as many as you should, now is the time to get one. As temperatures fall, Americans make more use of electric and natural-gas appliances inside their homes, which expands the opportunity for fire.

Smoke and heat alarms act as a warning of impending calamity, but what about the time between when those alarms sound and when fire personnel arrive? That's when you need a good fire extinguisher close by.

Drop by a home and garden center or hardware store, and the display of fire extinguishers can leave you confused. Do you buy a big one or small one, what do all those letters mean and how many should you buy?

If you have a two-story home, there should be fire extinguishers on both floors. While most fires start in the kitchen, many start in a bedroom, particularly if someone in your home is a smoker. For a start, figure two extinguishers for those rooms.

(Even if you don't smoke, you may want one in your bedroom. If you're headed for another room to fight a fire, an extinguisher in the room on fire may not be reachable. You can grab the one in your bedroom.)

Garages, laundry rooms and a child's room are among the other areas in a home where fire is a serious threat. Why not place an extinguisher in each?

When you're convinced that you have to get several extinguishers, which type to buy?

Basically, extinguishers are divided into three specific categories:

+ Class A. This type of extinguisher is best at fighting fires from wood, cloth, paper, rubber and other ordinary combustibles.

+ Class B. This includes flammable liquids such as gasoline, oil, grease, tar and oil-based paint.

+ Class C. Electrical appliances, wiring, circuit breakers and fuse boxes make up this category.

In my home, I have five fire extinguishers. Four are basically ABC. One, which I keep in the kitchen area, is a Class C. There is one in my garage, one in my laundry room, one in the master bedroom and one near the downstairs fireplace.

Which size do you get? What would you think of your judgment after a fire if all you had had to work with was the smallest extinguisher sold? If the fire rages on after you've used the small amount in your extinguisher, you may wish that you had bought one larger.

I have medium-size extinguishers. Four are of the 60-ounce size, one is 80 ounces.

Where do you place the extinguishers? For the most part, place them close enough to the spots of potential fires yet far enough away that you will be able to get to them if there is a fire.

How much will this cost you? A 60-ounce fire extinguisher runs about $25. An 80-ounce model goes for about $40.

Most hardware stores and home centers carry a variety of fire extinguishers.