Common device can spark deadly fires

While the sun shines most of the year in San Diego, during the winter months the early mornings and nights can get chilly.

And when temperatures drop, the risk of home heating fires goes up. More than 56,000 home structure fires and 510 deaths were attributed to home heating equipment in 2013, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Portable or fixed space heaters were involved in four out of five of these deaths.

“There are many deaths every year due to space heaters,” said Susan Day, Executive Director of San Diego Burn Institute. “Many times they happen late in the evening between midnight and 2:00 a.m.”

Experts say, once a fire starts there’s no time to waste. In a home without a sprinkler system a resident has three to five minutes to get out safely.

“The problem with space heaters is the element puts out about 200 degrees, so any type of combustible getting closer than three feet can ignite,” said Deputy Chief Doug Perry of the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department (SDFD). “Once that ignites, it spreads to curtains, it spreads to furniture and now you can have a fully involved house started by that small little space heater.”

SDFD offered these basic rules to follow for using a space heater:

  • Clear three feet of space around the device.
  • Make sure the device is turned off and unplugged when not in use and after bedtime.
  • Don’t use extension cords or a power strip, instead plug the device directly into a wall outlet.

“Those little space heaters draw a lot of electricity so if you have an undersized wire, that becomes a heating coil and that can start the fire,” said Deputy Chief Perry.

Emergency officials also emphasize the importance of a functioning smoke alarm in every home. For more information and tips, visit the SDFD webpage.

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