As the weather turns colder and people start heating their homes, the risk for house fires begins to increase. One of the most deadly sources of these fires comes from space heaters. According to the National Fire Protection Association, space heaters account for 43% of all home heating fires in the United States and 85% of home heating fire deaths.
Fire Marshal Tim Lee said Ardmore is no exception to this rule. He said two of the most important rules to remember when using space heaters is to keep them away from combustibles and to never plug them into extension cords.
“We see a large number of fires every year that were started by space heaters left too close to combustibles or plugged into extension cords,” Lee said. “With space heaters you want to keep them at least 36 inches away from any combustibles, and never use extension cords with them.
“They’re not designed for use with an extension cord. They’re not designed for use with surge protectors. You need to plug them directly into the wall.”
Lee also said to never leave a space heater unattended and to always turn them off whenever leaving the room. He also suggested unplugging them entirely whenever you leave your home.
He added that when purchasing a space heater, make sure it is certified by Underwriters Laboratories and to always follow the directions included with the heater.
“Any product that you see with a UL label has been put through rigorous safety testing and if you follow the manufacturers recommendation and do everything you’re supposed to do you should be okay,” Lee said.
Another source of fire can come from clogged, dirty chimneys.
“If you’re going to light a fire in the fireplace, you’re going to want to make sure that it has been cleaned this year,” Lee said. “Have them cleaned and inspected by a certified chimney sweep.”
Finally, Lee said to keep an eye on any neighboring structures in your neighborhood, particularly if they are vacant. Vacant and condemned housing can attract the homeless who sometimes light unsafe fires within the structure.
“They’ll get into those houses and there’s no electricity, so they’ll use candles for light and build small fires for heat,” Lee said. “They’ll also get in there smoking cigarettes, and they’ll flick their cigarettes into the corner and start fires that way.”
Community Development Director Jessica Scott said the Department of Development Services stays busy boarding up vacant buildings for this very reason.
“We board up at least 3 houses a week because if it sits empty for a long time people will know about it, and then they start breaking in because it’s cold,” Scott said. “We had a lot of fires over the years set in vacant houses and it’s so dangerous not only for the vacant house but for the neighbors. We don’t want any loss of life or loss of property.”
Scott said to contact the Department of Development Services if you see any suspicious activity around a structure you know to be vacant.