The American Red Cross encourages people to test smoke alarms twice yearly — at the beginning and end of Daylight Saving Time, though better late than never — and to design and practice a home escape plan. The threat of home fires — which are most often caused by cooking and heating equipment — increases with the holidays and cold weather.

Working smoke alarms can cut the risk of dying in a home fire by half, according to the Red Cross. Red Cross teams respond to about 300 home fires in Maine each year.

The following steps are recommended:

• Install smoke alarms on every level of the home. Place them inside and outside bedrooms and sleeping areas.

• Test smoke alarms and replace batteries if needed. Test smoke alarms monthly and change batteries at least once a year if a model requires it. Also check carbon-monoxide alarms.

•Practice a home fire-escape plan. Include at least two ways to get out of every room. Select a meeting spot a safe distance from the home, such as a neighbor’s home or landmark like a specific tree where everyone can meet. Practice until everyone can escape in two minutes or less.

The Red Cross and its partners will install smoke alarms in homes, help create escape plans and provide other home fire-safety tips free of charge. To sign up, visit or call 874-1192, option 3. For more information, visit