fireplace for winter heatingHome heating equipment and decorative devices are common causes of residential structure fires. Fireplaces, space heaters, and holiday decorations are serious fire hazards. Accordingly, it is often advised that several precautions should be undertaken before one endeavors to utilize such devices to keep their home and families warm, and their residential environment celebratory. Fires originating from space heaters fireplaces, or electric decorations may smolder slowly and go unnoticed, particularly if those individuals present in the household are in a separate room, away from the location of the devices. If issues with smoke or heat detectors are lurking, this could be a recipe for disaster.

In the fall and winter, residential use of fireplaces, space heaters, and seasonal decorations and ornaments increases as the holidays emerge, the weather changes, and temperatures begin to decrease. House fires can be cause by misuse of fireplaces, space heaters, or decorations, or can result from manufacturing and/or design defects in a particular device or product.

chimneyThe statistics and information concerning home fires during the fall and winter months can be alarming. Chimneys and fireplaces account for approximately 60% of the estimated 36,000 home heating related fires each year. This makes chimneys and fireplaces reportedly the number one source of home heating equipment fires. Space heater and portable heater fires constitute about 100 of the estimated 240 deaths linked to home heating devices each year. Thus, portable heaters have been identified as the top cause of death related to home heating equipment fires. Christmas trees have reportedly been estimated to cause an average of 250 home structure fires each year. Furthermore, these fires have caused approximately 14 deaths, 26 injuries, and about 13.8 million dollars in property damage each year according to the United States Fire Administration. Additionally, holiday lights and other decorative plug in devices have been associated with approximately 170 home structure fires per year. Such fires have been reported to cause about 7 deaths, 17 injuries, and 7.9 million dollars in property damage each year.

Here are a few tips for keeping safe during the winter and fall months and for keeping safe when using heating devices or decorative items:

  • Have chimneys inspected before each heating season.
  • Before lighting a fire, open the fireplace damper- keep it opened until all ashes are cool. Do not close the damper if ashes are warm. Opening the damper may help to prevent poisonous gas build-up.
  • Store fireplace ashes away from combustibles in a fire resistant container.
  • Place any space or portable heater on a hard, non-flammable, level surface. Make sure not to place a portable heater on rugs or carpets, or near loose curtains or bedding or other flammable materials.
  • Ensure that children and pets do not come near the space heaters.
  • Turn off the space heater or any plug in holiday decorations when you go to sleep or when you leave the area.
  • Try to obtain a space heater with the most up-to-date safety features. Use a portable heater that has been certified by a nationally recognized testing laboratory and has been tested to the latest safety standards.
  • Do not use portable heaters as the only means to heat your home.
  • Try to avoid using extension cords for space heaters or decorative products. If you must use an extension cord, try to utilize one which is relatively new and in good condition.
  • Keep up to date on, and alert of, any product recalls.

ash of fire used for winter heatingTo avoid any potentially disastrous events related to portable heaters, fireplaces, and holiday decorations, share this information with family and friends. Tragic results may come about from misuse of any of these devices. It is vital that individuals take the precautions and do the most that they can to prevent possible home fires this fall and winter season. It is important to for you to be warm and comfortable and have fun during colder months and the holiday season, but doing so while taking necessary safety measures can make this time even more enjoyable for all!

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Paul d’Oliveira

Attorney Paul d’Oliveira has been practicing personal injury and disability law for over 30 years. He started his personal injury law practice in 1989 with two offices in Fall River, MA and East Providence, RI. Today his firm has 15 offices in RI and Southeastern, MA.

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