Our thoughts are with the family of Wendy Mercer of Carroll County who died in a mobile home fire Monday morning.

Mercer and five others were awakened and fled the burning home, but she re-entered the structure to retrieve supplies for her 4-month old child.

She never came out.

If history holds true, we can expect an increase in the number of residential fires as cold weather approaches. Some fires are caused by faulty furnaces, some by dirty fireplaces, and others by people misusing space heaters and candles.

Investigators believe a faulty heating source caused the fire that took Mercer's life.

There are several things homeowners should do to stay safe during the winter heating months.

First, all families should develop an escape plan should a fire occur. In the event of a fire, the first rule is to escape safely. And, never re-enter a burning structure.

There are some simple tips experts suggest be followed to make a home safe:

• Replace or clean furnace filters three or four times a year. A new filter makes a furnace more energy-efficient and saves money, too.

• Be aware of carbon monoxide problems. Virtually every gas furnace produces some carbon monoxide, which is usually carried away from the home through the furnace's venting. A clean, efficiently burning gas furnace produces very small amounts of carbon monoxide, while a dirty, inefficiently burning one can produce deadly amounts.

• Keep the area around the furnace clean and unobstructed.

• Do not close off more than 20 percent of the registers in the house. This can cause high resistance and unnecessary heat buildup in the furnace.

• Do not store combustible material such as paint thinners or gasoline near the furnace.

• Have your fireplace chimney inspected for damage and obstructions.

• Never burn charcoal in the fireplace. Burning charcoal gives off deadly amounts of carbon monoxide.

• If you use a space heater, it should be equipped with a safety light, loud alarm, a switch that automatically shuts the heater off if it tips and a cut-off device in case of overheating.

• Space heaters must have space. Keep all objects, pets and people at least three feet away from the heater at all times.

• Don't use space heaters in the bathroom. Do not touch a space heater if you are wet.

All of these tips seem basic - because they are. A common-sense approach to heating your home should provide a comfortable and safe setting for your family.