With the early onset of colder weather, homeowners are seeking alternative and economical methods of keeping warm. The increase in the use of home heating appliances also increases the risk of home heating fires; the second leading cause of U.S. home fires and the third-leading cause of home fire deaths.
Prince William County Fire and Rescue System Chief Tim Keen urges residents to be vigilant when using alternative heating methods by following these simple safety tips to keep you and your loved ones safe and warm:
FIREPLACES, WOOD STOVES AND OTHER FUEL-FIRED APPLIANCES
Fires that originate from these appliances are referred to as "confined" fires. Wood stoves, the most popular category of wood-burning heaters, causes thousands of residential fires each year. Be sure to:
- Install wood burning stoves following manufacturer's instructions or have a professional do the installation.
- Keep fireplaces and woodstoves clean.
- Clean annually by a certified chimney specialist.
- Keep area around fireplace and woodstove clean and free of debris, decorations and flammable materials.
- ALWAYS use a metal or heat-tempered glass screen with fireplaces.
- Install spark screens and caps on chimneys.
- Install stovepipe thermometers to monitor flue temperatures.
- Keep air inlets open on woodstoves and fireplaces.
- If closed, inlets cause creosote buildup and lead to chimney fires.
Safely Burn Fuels
- NEVER use flammable liquids to start a fire.
- Use only seasoned wood.
- Extinguish fire before leaving the house or going to bed.
- When removing fireplace ashes precautions should be taken to prevent fires or injuries:
- Wear heavy leather gloves when cleaning embers and ashes out of your fireplace or wood burning stove to protect your hands from any hot embers.
- DO NOT place woodstove or fireplace ashes in paper bags or any other combustible container.
- Dispose of embers and ashes in a metal container with a lid. (Remember, ashes can remain hot for several days so they should be stored on a noncombustible surface or spread out on the ground at least 10 feet away from your home and any nearby building or combustible material.)
PORTABLE or SPACE HEATERS
- Buy only Underwriter's Laboratory/UL-approved heaters.
- NEVER fill your heater with gasoline or camp stove fuel.
- Both flare-up easily and increase the risk of fire.
- Use only fuels appropriate for appliance.
- Refuel outside and only after heater has cooled.
- DO NOT use kerosene heaters in small enclosed areas.
- Potential for carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.
- A person can be poisoned by a small amount of CO over a long period of time or by a large amount of CO over a shorter amount of time.
- Install and maintain CO alarms to avoid the risk of CO poisoning.
- When using, keep a window ajar or the door open.
- Annually, clean kerosene heaters and replace wicks.
Electric Space Heaters
- Space heaters account for 2 of every 5 (44%) of home heating fires resulting in 86% of deaths and 78% of injuries.
- Buy only heaters with Underwriter's Laboratory (UL) safety listing.
- Be sure it has a thermostat control mechanism and automatically switches off if tipped over.
- ALWAYS unplug when leaving the room or going to bed.
- Avoid using extension cords.
- NEVER use frayed or damaged cords.
Whether you're using a stationary or portable heating appliance:
- Keep anything that can burn at least 3 feet away from heating equipment, such as the furnace, fireplace, wood stove, or portable space heater.
- According to NFPA's 2018 report, "U.S. Home Fires Involving Heating Equipment", fires in which the heat source was too close to combustibles were associated with the largest number of injuries, deaths and property damage.
- Have a three-foot "kid-free zone" around open fires and space heaters.
- NEVER use your oven to heat your home.
- Remember to turn portable heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed.
To significantly increase your chances of surviving a fire in your home -- by more than double -- install smoke alarms and sprinklers in the home. In addition, develop and practice a home fire escape plan and be sure everyone is familiar with the plan.
For additional information regarding home heating safety, visit the National Fire Protection Association www.nfpa.org and the U.S. Fire Administration www.usfa.fema.gov/.