The deaths of a mother, grandmother and three small children in a New Orleans house fire are a terrible reminder of how quickly flames and smoke can claim human lives. That reality looms especially large during the winter months, when space heaters and fireplaces increase the risk of mishaps.

The New Orleans deaths, though, underscore how important it is that every home in Louisiana have working smoke detectors. In the house that caught fire in New Orleans, there were no working smoke alarms, officials said.

Smoke alarms are relatively cheap, but many residents procrastinate about installing them — a lapse than can prove deadly. If you don’t have working detectors, get some today.

Those who can’t afford smoke alarms can get them through Operation Save-A-Life, in which local firefighters or fire prevention personnel install free smoke alarms in qualified homes. If you think you might qualify, visit your local fire station for details, or go to www.lasfm.org and click on “Fire Is Everyone’s Fight.”

According to the National Fire Protection Association, about half of fires during the months of December, January and February are associated with home heating appliances, with half of those resulting in deaths. The main culprit is flammable items placed too close to heat sources.

The Office of the Louisiana State Fire Marshal encourages residents to follow this advice:

Adopt a “3-foot rule,” where children and/or flammables are kept more than 3 feet away from any heat source.

Avoid using your kitchen oven to heat your home.

Have chimneys and heating equipment cleaned and inspected annually by a qualified professional.

If using a chimney, ensure that you have a spark-preventing screen placed in front of the chimney.

When using a wood- or gas-burning fireplace, properly install and maintain a carbon monoxide detector.

Remember: Carbon monoxide is known as a “silent killer” because it is odorless.

When leaving a room or going to bed, make sure to turn off all portable heaters.

Test smoke alarms monthly. Immediately replace batteries if needed.

Human nature being what it is, few of us expect to be the victims of a house fire. But each winter’s news cycle provides grim evidence of how easily such fires can happen. We urge residents to be safe and take the proper precautions.