Space Heating Safety Tips

Each year, fire claims the lives of 4,000 Americans, injures tens of thousands and causes billions of dollars of damage. People living in rural areas are more than twice as likely to die in a fire as those living in mid-sized cities or suburban areas. The misuse of wood stoves, fireplaces, portable space heaters and kerosene heaters is especially common in rural areas.

The United States Fire Administration (USFA) believes fire problems can be reduced by teaching people to recognize potential hazards. And remember: Having a working smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector (with battery backup) dramatically increases your chances of surviving a fire. Practice a home escape plan frequently with your family.

The following precautionary steps can greatly reduce an individual’s chances of becoming a fire casualty:

Electric Space Heaters

Only buy heaters with the Underwriter's Laboratory (UL) safety listing. Check to make sure it has a thermostat control mechanism and will switch off automatically if the heater tips over. “Space” heaters need their space. They are not dryers or tables; don't dry clothes or store objects on top of your heater.  Keep combustibles at least three feet away. Never use an extension cord and always unplug your electric space heater when it is not in use.

Kerosene Heaters

Buy only UL-approved heaters, and check with your local fire department on the legality of using a kerosene heater in your community. Never fill your heater with gasoline or camp stove fuel; both flare up easily. Only use crystal clear K-1 kerosene. Never overfill any portable heater or fill when it is still hot.  Only use the kerosene heater in a well-ventilated room.

Wood Stoves

Wood stoves cause more than 9,000 residential fires every year.  Carefully follow the manufacturer's installation and maintenance instructions.  Check for cracks and inspect legs, hinges and door seals for smooth joints and seams. Use only seasoned wood for fuel, not green wood, artificial logs or trash. Inspect and clean your pipes and chimneys annually, and check monthly for damage or obstructions. Be sure to keep combustible objects at least 3 feet away from your wood stove. For more information, visit our Wood-Burning Stoves Safety page.

Wood Burning Fireplaces

Fireplaces regularly build up creosote in their chimneys. Fireplaces need to be cleaned out frequently, and chimneys should be inspected for obstructions and cracks to prevent deadly chimney and roof fires.  Check to make sure the damper is open before starting any fire. Never burn trash, paper or green wood in your fireplace. These materials cause heavy creosote build-up and are difficult to control. Use a screen heavy enough to stop rolling logs and big enough to cover the entire opening of the fireplace to prevent sparks from igniting carpet, furniture or other combustible items. Don't wear loose-fitting clothes near any open flame. Make sure the fire is completely out before leaving the house or going to bed. Store cooled ashes in a tightly sealed metal container outside the home. For more information, visit our Chimney and Fireplace Safety page.

Source: Michigan Committee for Severe Weather Awareness, www.mcswa.com.
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