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As Weather Turns Colder, Alternate Heating Methods Can Lead To Home Fires


Almost 50 people spent Sunday night in American Red Cross shelters in West Virginia, Illinois and California after fire hit their multi-family dwellings. Home fires are the biggest disaster threat to people in this country – worse than floods, hurricanes and tornadoes. Every day, the Red Cross responds to as many as 170 home fires – that’s one fire every eight minutes.

With the onset of winter and colder weather, people will be turning up their thermostats to stay warm. Many will resort to alternate heating methods to cut down on costs. Supplemental heating sources can be dangerous if not used properly. The Red Cross urges caution when using heating alternatives and offers the following safety tips on how to prevent fires:

  • Have wood and coal stoves, fireplaces, chimneys and furnaces professionally inspected once a year.
  • Never use a stove or oven to heat the home.
  • Never leave portable heaters or fireplaces unattended.
  • Turn off space heaters or extinguish the fireplace before going to bed or leaving home.
  • Place a space heater on a hard, level, nonflammable surface. Do not put space heaters on rugs or carpets, near bedding or drapes, and keep children and pets away. Look for a space heater model that shuts off automatically if the heater falls over.
  • When using a fireplace, use a glass or metal screen large enough to catch sparks or rolling logs and keep the fire in the fireplace.
  • Keep all flammable materials such as newspapers, matches, bedding, clothing, carpets and rugs at least three feet away from heat sources such as space heaters, fireplaces and stoves.
Fire Safety Checklist.

Smoke alarms save lives. People should:

  • Install smoke alarms on every level of their home, inside bedrooms and outside sleeping areas.
  • Check monthly that smoke alarms are working properly by pushing the test button.
  • Replace batteries in smoke alarms at least once a year.
  • Replace smoke alarms every ten years.

Planning for fire emergencies is important. Make sure all household members know two ways to escape from every room of the home, and set up a meeting place outside in case of fire. Practice escaping from the home at least twice a year and at different times of the day. Teach household members to stop, drop and roll if their clothing should catch on fire.

For more information on what you can do to keep you and your loved ones safe, visit the “Help Prevent Home Fires” section of our website.