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How to Avoid a Home Fire during Winter Storm

Disaster Response
Heating fires second leading cause of home fires.

The massive winter storm hitting the East Coast has home heating systems running hard and the American Red Cross asks everyone to use caution heating their homes, especially if using supplemental heating sources.

Heating one’s home through the winter can be expensive, so costly that almost half of the families in the United States use alternate heating sources such as space heaters, fireplaces, or coal or wood stoves to stay warm. These supplemental heating sources can be dangerous if not used properly.

The Red Cross urges everyone to use follow these safety steps when using alternate heat sources:

  • Keep items that will burn like paper, clothing, bedding, curtains or rugs at least three feet away from space heaters, stoves, or fireplaces.
  • Don’t leave portable heaters and fireplaces unattended. Turn off space heaters and make sure any embers in the fireplace are extinguished before going to bed or leaving home.
  • Place any space heater on a level, hard and nonflammable surface (such as ceramic tile floor), not on rugs or carpets or near bedding or drapes. Keep children and pets away from space heaters.
  • When buying a space heater, look for models that have the safety measure of shutting off automatically if the heater falls over.
  • Never use a cooking range or oven to heat your home.
  • Using a fireplace? Make sure you have a glass or metal fire screen large enough to catch sparks and rolling logs.
  • POWER OUTAGE The storm is bringing high winds to the affected regions, which could cause the power to go out. If someone is going to use a generator, never use it indoors, even in a garage, carport, basement or crawlspace. Fumes from the generator can be deadly. Don’t hook a generator up to the home’s wiring. The safest thing to do is to connect the equipment you want to power directly to the outlets on the generator. Other safety tips include:

  • Use flashlights for light, not candles.
  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. Check refrigerated food for spoilage and if in doubt, throw it out. Your refrigerator will keep cold for about 4 hours. If the freezer is full, it will keep its temperature for about 48 hours.
  • Have coolers on hand and surround your food with ice in the cooler or refrigerator to keep food cold for a longer period of time.
  • Turn off and unplug all unnecessary electrical equipment and any appliances, equipment or electronics to avoid damaging them when the power is restored.
  • Leave one light turned on so you’ll know when the power comes back on.
  • Watch animals and keep them under your direct control.
  • Eliminate unnecessary travel, especially by car. Traffic lights will be out and roads will be congested.
  • LIFE-SAVING STEPS Make sure all household members know two ways to escape from every room of your home, and set up a meeting place outside in case of fire. Practice escaping from your 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.

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

    For more information about fire safety and steps you can take to be ready, visit the preparedness information on our web site.

    About the American Red Cross:
    The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit or, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.