According to the National Fire Protection Association, heating is the second leading cause of U.S. home fires, deaths and injuries and December, January and February are the peak months for heating fires. In 2009-2013, heating equipment was involved in an estimated average of 56,000 reported home fires per year, which caused 470 deaths, 1,490 injuries and $1 billion in direct property damage.
Home heating equipment was involved in 16 percent of home fires, 19 percent of the home fire deaths, 12 percent of the home fire injuries, and 15 percent of the direct property damage from home fires. Failure to clean chimneys and other heating equipment was the leading cause of these fires. However, space heaters, including portable heaters and those that are permanently installed, were involved in five out of six home heating fire deaths. Heating equipment was too close to things that can burn, such as upholstered furniture, clothing, mattresses or bedding, etc. in roughly half of the fire deaths.
Some simple steps can prevent most heating-related fires from happening.
Follow these tips:
• 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 three-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. Keep the container a safe distance away from your home.
• Test smoke alarms monthly.
There is also another threat.
Often called the invisible killer, carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless gas created when fuels burn incompletely. In the home, heating and cooking equipment that burn fuel are potential sources of CO. In 2010, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 80,100 non-fire incidents in which carbon monoxide was found, or an average of nine such calls per hour. The number of incidents increased 96 percent from 40,900 incidents reported in 2003. This increase is most likely due to the increased use of CO detectors, which alert people to the presence of CO.
Our homes are our refuges from the cold. Let’s keep them safe.