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Tina Fineberg, File, Associated Press
FILE - In this Dec. 25, 2011 file photo, firefighters spray water on the roof of a house in Stamford, Conn., where an early morning fire left five people dead. The fire that killed three children and their grandparents with astonishing speed and ferocity was sparked by fireplace embers dumped in a bag near the house. As more people turn to alternative heat sources, including wood-burning stoves and fireplaces, experts say it's a reminder that ashes cool to the touch can still harbor danger hours afterward.

HARTFORD, Conn. — Fire safety officials are warning homeowners about the dangers of fireplace ashes after a Christmas morning blaze that killed five people in Connecticut.

Authorities say the fire in Stamford was caused by a bag of fireplace ashes left near the back of the home. Seven-year-old twin girls, their 10-year-old sister and their grandparents died.

The U.S. Fire Administration says ashes can remain hot enough to start a fire for up to 24 hours. The agency recommends leaving ashes in the fireplace protected by a metal or glass screen with the damper open.

If the ashes are removed, they should be placed outside in a metal container well away from the house.

The agency says hot embers or ashes cause more than 11,500 residential building fires a year.