Office of the State Fire Marshal | Nov 13, 2013
As temperatures drop, concern about the high cost of home heating bills has increased the use of alternative heating sources, but we may unknowingly be putting ourselves and our families at higher risk of fires and carbon monoxide poisoning.
While heating sources such as portable space heaters, wood burning stoves, and fireplaces add welcome warmth, they also significantly increase the risk of home fires.
Heating equipment is the second leading cause of home fires in the United States, according to the Home Fires Involving Heating Equipment report released last month by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). In 2011, heating equipment was involved in an estimated 53,600 home fires, with associated losses of 400 deaths, 1,520 injuries, and $893 million in direct property damage. Space heaters, whether portable or stationary, accounted for one-third (33 percent) of home heating fires and four out of five (81 percent) of home heating fire deaths. Half of these fires occur from December through February.
“We want Kansans to be warm this winter, but we also want them to be safe. Home heating fires can be prevented if you follow a few simple steps,” said Doug Jorgensen, Kansas State Fire Marshal.
He suggests following these tips from the NFPA to reduce risk of a home heating fire:
- 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.
Winter heating devices can also increase the risk of carbon monoxide, a deadly, colorless, odorless, poisonous gas created when fuels, including coal, wood, charcoal, oil, kerosene, propane, and natural gas, burn incompletely. This gas is especially dangerous because you cannot see, taste, or smell the toxic fumes and may not realize that you are being exposed.
Carbon monoxide in the home can be created by fuel-burning appliances, such as furnaces, stoves, water heaters, and room heaters, that are not working properly; unvented kerosene and gas space heaters; leaking chimneys and furnaces; back-drafting from furnaces, gas water heaters, wood stoves, and fireplaces; generators and other gasoline powered equipment; and automobile exhaust from attached garages. Heating systems are the leading cause of unintentional deaths and injuries due to carbon monoxide poisoning.
Jorgensen also recommends these safety tips to help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning:
- Make sure fuel-burning appliances are properly installed, operated and serviced by qualified technicians according to the manufacturer's instructions and local building codes.
- Properly vent all fuel-burning appliances to the outside of the house and make sure the vents are not covered with snow, tarps or other items.
- Consider buying a vented space heater when replacing an unvented one.
- Never use a portable generator, gas or charcoal grill or portable fuel-burning camping equipment inside a home, building, or shed.
- Open the fireplace damper before lighting a fire and do not close it until the ashes are cool.
- Never use gas appliances, such as stoves, ovens, or clothes dryers, to heat your home.
- Move your idling car or truck outside the garage to warm up.
Working alarms provide you and your family with warning signals and critical time to escape your house in case of a fire or carbon monoxide incident. Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, inside bedrooms, and outside sleeping areas. Place carbon monoxide alarms in a central location outside each sleeping area and on every level of your home. Test all alarms every month to make sure they are working properly.