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Red Cross Urges Caution Heating Homes as Weather Gets Colder

American Red Cross
So far this year we’ve helped more than 1,000 people who were victims of home fires in South Carolina. But the good news is that there are steps you can take when using heating equipment to reduce your risk of a home fire.

The American Red Cross reminds people to take precautions when heating their homes during the frigid temperatures that are forecasted to affect South Carolina overnight and this weekend. The Red Cross urges families to be cautious when using space heaters and other heating sources, and to make a plan in case of a home fire. Heating sources are the second leading cause of home fire deaths, and fatal home fires increase during the winter months.

“So far this year we’ve helped more than 1,000 people who were victims of home fires in South Carolina,” said Louise Welch-Williams, regional chief executive officer for the Palmetto SC region of the American Red Cross. “But the good news is that there are steps you can take when using heating equipment to reduce your risk of a home fire.”

Heat Your Home Safely

Heat sources such as space heaters, fireplaces or wood and coal stoves can pose a fire hazard, and fatal fires peak in the early morning hours when most people are sleeping. As families turn to alternative heating sources to supplement their home heating systems, they should take the following precautions.

  • Use caution with portable space heaters - Heating equipment is the leading cause of home fires during the winter months, according to the National Fire Prevention Association. About two-thirds of home heating fire deaths are caused by portable or fixed space heaters.
  • To prevent fire, place space heaters at least three feet away from anything combustible, including wallpaper, bedding, clothing, pets, and people.
  • Never leave space heaters operating when you are not in the room or when you go to bed.
  • Don't leave children or pets unattended near space heaters.
  • Drying towels, or wet mittens or other clothing over space heaters is a fire hazard.
  • Don't overload your electrical outlets when plugging in space heaters. Be careful of extension cords that present hazardous walkways.
  • Make sure smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms are working properly and replace batteries as necessary.
  • Use a glass or metal fire screen to keep fire and embers in the fireplace.
  • Never leave a fire in the fireplace unattended.
  • Never use a cooking range or oven to heat your home.
  • Have wood and coal stoves, fireplaces, and chimneys inspected annually by a professional, and cleaned if necessary.
  • Avoid Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

    Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless and silent killer that, nationally, claims hundreds of lives each year. A threat year round, carbon monoxide poisoning tends to increase when storms and power outages force people to turn to unsafe alternative heat sources such as fuel-burning appliances, gas generators, camp stoves and charcoal grills and use them in confined spaces.

  • Install carbon monoxide alarms in central locations on every level of your home and outside sleeping areas (avoid corners where air does not circulate). Test the alarm every month.
  • Have heating systems (including chimneys and vents) inspected and serviced annually, checking for blockages, corrosion, and partial and complete disconnections.
  • Never use a generator, grill or camp stove inside a home, garage or basement.
  • Do not use gas appliances such as ranges, ovens or clothes dryers to heat your home.
  • Know the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning: headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, sleepiness, and confusion. If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, move quickly to a fresh air location, and then call 9-1-1.
  • Treat the alarm signal as a real emergency each time. If the alarm sounds and you are not experiencing any symptoms described above, press the reset button. If the alarm continues to sound, call the fire department.
  • People can take two steps to protect themselves and their loved ones and increase their chances of surviving a fire.
  • Every household should develop a fire escape plan and practice it several times a year and at different times of the day.
  • Include two ways to get out of every room and consider escape ladders for sleeping areas or homes on the second floor or above.
  • Pick a place outside for everyone to meet and make sure everyone knows where it is.
  • Practice that home fire drill until everyone in the household can do it in less than two minutes.
  • Install smoke alarms on every level of the home, inside bedrooms and outside sleeping areas. Test them every month and replace the batteries at least once a year.
  • In South Carolina, the American Red Cross, on average, responds to a disaster every four hours. Because of volunteers and financial assistance from the community, the Red Cross was able to help more than 7,000 individuals affected by disasters in South Carolina last year.