As temperatures fall this winter, fire chiefs remind residents to keep their home heating safe and well-maintained.
Home heating equipment is the leading cause of U.S. home fires from December through February, when nearly half of all U.S. home heating equipment fires occur, reports the National Fire Protection Association.
January is particularly bad.
“Clearly, the coldest months of the year is when we see the largest share of home heating fires,” said Lorraine Carli, the association’s vice president of outreach and advocacy, in a news release. “It’s critical that people understand when and where home heating fires tend to happen so that they can take the needed steps to minimize those risks.”
An average of 48,530 fires from home heating fires occurred each year between 2014 and 2018, killing 500 people, injuring 1,350 and causing $1.1 billion in damage.
Cortlandville Fire Chief Gere Henry said Friday that fires from heating sources — such as from space heaters and clogged chimneys — are the most common sources of fires his department responds to in winter, two so far this winter: a malfunctioning furnace and a clogged chimney.
“Other than that, it’s been good,” he said.
Lack of maintenance is usually behind the fires, such as not seeing to maintenance or proper services, including having chimneys cleaned.
While more people may be inside at home this winter due to the coronavirus pandemic, Henry said there might be a greater risk of fires.
But the reverse is also possible, Homer Fire Chief Mahlon Irish said. There could potentially be a lower risk for fires from heating sources with more people at home.
“I think people are paying more attention to that because they are around,” he said. “They’re not gone for eight
Space heaters today also have safety devices that can shut the heater off if knocked over, which can also help lower the risk of fires, he said. The problem becomes when people have them near other combustible objects.
“People need to consider where they face them (space heaters),” he said.
The Homer Fire Department hasn’t received any calls relating to fires from space heaters in several years, he said, but it typically gets six calls a year for chimney fires, although none yet this year.
People should have their chimneys inspected before the cold months of the year and check their carbon monoxide detectors as well, replacing them after 10 years, Irish said.
Winter heating safety tips
- Have a qualified professional clean and inspect heating equipment and chimneys.
- Keep anything flammable at least 3 feet away from all heating equipment, including furnaces, fireplaces, wood stoves and space heaters.
- Always use the proper fuel for fuel-burning space heaters.
- Create a 3-foot “kid-free zone” around open fires and space heaters.
- Make sure space heaters are in good working order and used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Turn them off when leaving the room or going to bed.
- Place a sturdy screen in front of fireplaces to stop sparks. Ashes should be cool before putting them in a metal container, which should be placed outside at least 10 feet away from your home.
- Fuel-burning equipment should be vented to the outside to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
- If you smell gas in your gas heater, do not light the appliance. Leave the home and call your fire department or gas company. n Place smoke and carbon monoxide alarms throughout the home. Test them monthly.