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Heating Equipment Leading Cause of Winter Home Fires


TALLAHASSEE - A 4-month-old Pensacola infant died when a space heater set her bed on fire early this month. The same week, a 62-year-old Lakeland man suffered first- and second-degree burns after a portable heater ignited.

In response to these tragic events, State Fire Marshal Tom Gallagher is warning consumers today that the use of space heaters is the leading cause of home fires during the months of December, January and February.

Two of every three home heating fires in the United States in 1998, and three of every four related deaths, were attributed to the use of space heaters, according to a report released recently by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Other types of heaters frequently involved in fires in the winter include wood stoves and fireplaces.

Nationally, heating equipment-related home fires caused an estimated 49,200 fires, resulting in 388 deaths, 1,445 injuries and $515 million in property damage in 1998, the most recent year for which figures are available.

Leading causes of heater-related fires include lack of regular cleaning; installation or placement of space heaters too close to combustibles; and the improper transfer or storage of fuel for fuel-burning equipment.

Portable space heaters should not be used in any bedroom, Gallagher warned. People who use them tend to go to sleep and throw off the covers when they get warm, running the risk of setting their bedding ablaze.

Bundling up in blankets and warm clothing is much safer, Gallagher said.

Temporary wiring, such as extension cords, should not be used with space heaters at all, he added, because of the potential to cause overheating. Only one portable heating device should be plugged in to any single outlet.

Other tips for preventing tragedy during cold weather:

· Space heaters need a three-foot clearance from anything that can burn.

· Portable space heaters should always be turned off when leaving the room or going to sleep.

· Smoke detectors should be installed and checked for working batteries.

· Wood and coal stoves, fireplaces, chimneys, chimney connectors, and all other solid-fueled heating equipment need to be inspected and cleaned.

· A sturdy fireplace screen will keep sparks from flying into the room.

· Portable kerosene heaters should be fueled only in a well-ventilated area, away from flames and other heat sources, and only when the device has cooled completely. Use only the type of kerosene specified by the manufacturer for that device and never use gasoline instead of kerosene.

· Do not refuel heaters on a wood floor. If a spill occurs, the floor itself will become a fire hazard.

· When turning a heating device on or off, be careful to follow the manufacturer's instructions. When buying heaters, look for devices with automatic shutoff features.

Visit the Division of State Fire Marshal web page at for more fire safety tips.