A fire last week in Hot Springs destroyed four local businesses: a quilt shop, two restaurants and an ice cream store.

Small businesses like these are important to every small community in South Dakota, including Madison. We would be heartbroken if a fire in an Egan Avenue building destroyed local businesses.

So let's use the Hot Springs fire as motivation to prevent a similar fate here.

Egan Avenue buildings range wide in age, from over 100 years old (1883 bank building at Center Street) to practically new (Encore Family Store). The older buildings are likely more at risk for fire and need our immediate attention.

Fire safety standards have improved dramatically over the course of Madison's history, and older electrical systems need to be upgraded to modern standards. Increased use of electricity, especially for electronics, has put strains on systems never designed for the heavier loads.

In addition, cold weather puts stress on some systems, not only with heating but ventilation. Space heaters might seem like a good idea, but we often read of fires started by a space heater near draperies or other flammable material.

There are plenty of resources to help prevent fires. We'd probably start with a licensed electrician, but would consider contacting the City of Madison offices for other resources. A visit to the National Safety Council's website (www.nsc.org) provides many tips to prevent fires or limit the damage if one starts.

We'll never know if our diligence prevents a fire, but we strongly believe we should all work at prevention.

-- Jon M. Hunter