Don’t let your efforts to stay warm set your house on fire this winter.
Fire inspector Lt. Jessica Duron-Martinez of Rio Rancho Fire Rescue Department said space heaters can present a particular danger.
“They’re great to warm a room, but we have to be sure people are safe using these,” she said.
According to RRFR, heating equipment is the second-leading cause of home fires and related injuries in the U.S., and the third-leading cause of deaths in home fires. Space heaters account for 44 percent of those fires and the vast majority of deaths and injuries in heating-related fires, Duron-Martinez said.
Duron-Martinez said people must keep flammable things such as curtains and bedding at least 3 feet away from space heaters, which can overheat items to the point of combustion.
She also said space heaters should always be plugged into a wall outlet, not extension cords or surge protectors. The high amperage of space heaters could overload extension cords or surge protectors, heating the internal wires of the cords until they catch fire.
When a space heater is plugged into a wall, the building’s electrical system is designed to shut down the breaker if something goes wrong, preventing overheating and fire.
Duron-Martinez also warned against running the cords of space heaters under rugs. The rugs stop the escape of heat, which can degrade wires in the cord and start a fire.
Space heaters should have a tip-over switch to automatically shut them off if they’re knocked over, she said.
People should turn off and unplug the heaters when going to bed, leaving the house or even leaving the room. Pets can knock objects across space heaters, which could start a fire if humans didn’t immediately correct the problem, she said.
People who use fireplaces need to put ashes in metal containers and set the containers outside, away from the house, when they clean out the fireplace, Duron-Martinez said. The embers and ashes can re-ignite, burn through plastic containers and set a home on fire if left inside.
Duron-Martinez said carbon monoxide poisoning is another possible danger with gas-powered heaters and stoves.
“Carbon monoxide’s that invisible killer that’s odorless,” she said.
Without a carbon monoxide detector, she continued, people won’t know they have a leak of the gas, at least until they’re sick. Early symptoms are nausea, vomiting and fatigue.
At the beginning of her career, Duron-Martinez was visiting her mother and smelled something burning late one night. She investigated.
Her mother had thrown a pillow off the bed in her sleep, and it landed on top of an operating space heater, Duron-Martinez said. The pillow was on fire, but her mother hadn’t awakened.
Duron-Martinez said she threw the pillow outside and doused the flames. Then she asked where the smoke detectors were, but there were none. So she and her mother installed some the next day.
Smoke detectors are always a must, she said. They’re even more important now because COVID-19 often causes a temporary loss of the sense of smell, meaning patients wouldn’t notice the scent of smoke and know to leave a burning house.
“The smoke detectors save lives,” Duron-Martinez said. “It would alert them in this situation.”