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For Release: December 13, 2011 – Pamela Williams, Office of Communications – (405) 271-5601

Space Heaters are the Second Leading Cause of Fire Injury or Death
Use Safety Precautions to Put a Freeze on Winter Fires

As winter approaches, the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) reminds Oklahomans to take precautions when using supplemental heat such as a space heater, wood stove or fireplace. According to data from the OSDH Injury Prevention Service, from 2004-2008 (the latest data available), 45 Oklahomans died and 12 were seriously injured in residential fires involving heating equipment. Nationally, in 2009, U.S. fire departments responded to more than 55,000 residential fires involving some sort of heating equipment, which resulted in nearly 500 deaths and 1,600 injuries and more than $1 billion in property damages.

Heating-related fires were the second leading cause of serious fire injury or death behind smoking. Nearly 10 percent of Oklahomans who died or were injured in heating fires were under the age of 5, and nearly 40 percent were over the age of 65. The most common way that home heating fires started was when objects such as furniture, clothes, paper, and bedding were too close to the heater and ignited.

Space heaters are the second leading cause of heating-related home fires behind fireplaces and chimneys, but account for 80 percent of heating-related home fire deaths. The leading factor in home-heating fires was a failure to clean equipment, but the leading factor in home-heating fire deaths was a heater placed too close to combustibles.

Below are a few winter safety precautions from the OSDH:

Protect your home:

  1. Install smoke alarms and battery-operated carbon monoxide detectors in the home. Test detectors at least once a month to make sure they are working correctly. Contact your local fire department with questions about smoke alarms, and their placement/installation.
  2. Keep anything flammable at least three feet away from all heating equipment.
  3. Do not use generators, charcoal grills, camp stoves, or other gasoline/charcoal-burning devices inside the home, basement, or garage; and do not use gas ovens or stoves to heat the home.
  4. In the event of a power outage, use battery powered flashlights or lanterns to light the home instead of candles. If candles are used, never leave them unattended and supervise children around open flames.

Fireplace safety:

  1. Have chimneys and flues inspected at least once a year.
  2. Cover your fireplace opening with a metal or glass screen to keep sparks from reaching carpet or other flammable materials.
  3. When using fireplaces, make sure they are properly vented to the outside.

Space heater safety:

  1. When using space heaters or other heating devices, follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.
  2. Keep children and pets at least three feet away from heating equipment to avoid contact burns, ignition of clothing, and to prevent the heater from being knocked over.
  3. Keep space heaters at least three feet away from furniture, clothes, paper, bedding, and anything else that can ignite.
  4. Purchase space heaters that will automatically shut off if too hot or knocked over.
  5. Always turn portable heating equipment off when leaving a room or going to bed. 

For more information on preventing fire and burn injuries, visit the Oklahoma State Department of Health at http://ips.health.ok.gov, the National Fire Protection Association at www.nfpa.org/winter, or the U.S. Fire Administration at www.usfa.dhs.gov/winter.

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