Editorial: Things are heating up

Bitter cold means portable heater use to rise; take precautions with them
Jan. 18, 2013 @ 12:19 AM

We’re about to get some really cold weather. Not snow, but bitter cold. Highs next week may only reach the 30s or upper 20s. Lows in the 20s. That’s cold. That’s winter.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, an estimated 900 portable heater fires in homes are reported to fire departments each year and cause around 70 deaths, 150 injuries and $53 million in property loss. Those portable heaters already have been used this winter, but they are about to get a workout. And those who use them must take precautions to ensure the safety of those living in the house.

“We cannot stress enough the importance of following safety precautions when using portable heating devices in your home,” said State Fire Marshal Julie Mix McPeak. “Keeping fire safety in mind can help save lives and property.”

Only 2 percent of heating fires in homes involve portable heaters, she said. Yet, portable heaters are involved in nearly half of all fatal heating fires in homes.

In 2011, portable heating equipment accounted for seven out of 10 heating fire deaths in Tennessee and caused $2.5 million in property damage. The leading factors were abandoned or discarded materials and combustibles too close to the heat source.

You can help prevent a portable heater fire in your home this winter by following a few fire safety steps from McPeak:

- Turn heaters off when you go to bed or leave a room.

- Keep anything that can burn, including bedding, clothing, curtains, pets and people at least three feet away from portable heaters.

- Only use portable heaters from a recognized testing laboratory and with an automatic shut-off so that if they tip over, they shut off.

- Plug portable heaters directly into outlets and never into an extension cord or power strip.

- Check the cord for fraying, cracking and look for broken wires or signs of overheating in the device itself.

- Never run the heater cord (or any cord) under rugs or carpeting.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, having a working smoke alarm reduces a person’s chance of dying in a fire by half. Install them on every level of the home, outside every sleeping area and in every bedroom.