The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local and State News

December 19, 2012

Taking precautions: Winter weather brings with it danger of home-heating fires

ENID, Okla. — As winter weather approaches and people turn to heating their homes, precautions should be taken to prevent home-heating fires.

Half of home-heating fires occur during the months of December, January and February, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

In 2010, the latest year in which statistics are available, 57,100 reported U.S. home structure fires involved heating equipment, the NFPA reported. Those fires resulted in 490 deaths, 1,530 injuries and $1.1 billion in direct property damage. Those fires also accounted for 15 percent of all reported home fires.

Enid Fire Department Assistant Fire Marshal Todd Hays said those using space heaters should take precautions.

“You need to maintain 3 feet of clearance around space heaters,” Hays said. “That goes for wood stoves or any portable heating device.”

Newer space heaters may not require the clearance, but Hays said consumers still should take precautions and read manufacturer’s instructions and warnings before using them.

“Some newer space heaters only produce heat through the front of the heater, so it’s possible the sides and back can be closer than 3 feet. Read manufacturers recommendations carefully.” he said. “But the best rule of thumb is to maintain 3 feet of clearance around the heater.”

Those using space heaters also need to ensure the device’s safety features are working properly prior to use.

“You need to make sure the tip-over device actually shuts the heater off and is functioning properly,” he said, noting the devices should also be UL, or Underwriters Laboratory, rated.

According to NFPA, space heaters, portable or stationary, were responsible for one-third of home heating fires between 2006 and 2010. The devices also were responsible for four out of five home-heating fire deaths during the same time period.

Placing things that can burn too close to heating equipment or placing heating equipment too close to things that can burn, such as upholstered furniture, clothing, mattress or bedding, was the leading factor contributing to ignition in fatal home heating fires and accounted for 51 percent of home heating fire deaths.

The NFPA recommends these tips for safely heating your home this winter:

• Keep anything that can burn at least three feet away from heating equipment, like the furnace, fireplace, wood stove, or portable space heater.

• Have a 3-foot “kid-free zone” around open fires and space heaters.

• Never use your oven to heat your home.

• Have a qualified professional install stationary space heating equipment, water heaters or central heating equipment according to the local codes and manufacturer’s instructions.

• Have heating equipment and chimneys cleaned and inspected every year by a qualified professional.

• Remember to turn portable heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed.

• Always use the right kind of fuel, specified by the manufacturer, for fuel burning space heaters.

• Make sure the fireplace has a sturdy screen to stop sparks from flying into the room.

• Ashes should be cool before putting them in a metal container, and keep the container a safe distance away from your home.

• Test smoke alarms monthly.

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