When most people think of winter storms, they think of relaxing snow days filled with soup and snowball fights. While trying to keep warm, the last thing on anyone’s mind is that their source of heat could be fatal. However, heating is the second leading cause of U.S. home fires, deaths and injuries. December, January and February are the peak months for heating fires. In 2011–2015, U.S. fire departments responded to 54,030 home structure fires that involved heating equipment.
These fires caused 480 civilian fire deaths, 1,470 civilian fire injuries, and $1.1 billion in direct property damage. Space heaters are the type of equipment most often involved in home heating equipment fires, figuring in two of every five fires (40 percent). The leading factor contributing to ignition for home heating fire deaths (53 percent) was heating equipment too close to flammable items, such as upholstered furniture, clothing, mattress or bedding.
To avoid heating source fires, the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) recommends keeping anything that can burn at least three feet away from any heat source like fireplaces, wood stoves, radiators or space heaters. Plug only one heat-producing appliance (such as a space heater) into an electrical outlet at a time. Have a qualified professional clean and inspect your chimney and vents every year. Store cooled ashes in a tightly covered metal container, and keep it outside at least 10 feet from your home and any nearby buildings.
Another winter fire hazard is carbon monoxide (CO), an odorless, colorless gas created when fuels such as gasoline, wood, coal, propane, etc. do not burn completely. In the home, heating and cooking equipment that burn fuel are potential sources of CO. Portable generators, while useful during power outages, present a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. According to a 2013 Consumer Product Safety Commission report, half of the generator-related deaths happened in the four coldest months of the year, November through February, and portable generators were involved in the majority of carbon monoxide deaths involving engine-driven tools. Keep portable generators outside, away from windows, and as far away as possible from your home. The NFPA recommends installing and testing carbon monoxide alarms at least once a month.