Heating Fire Safety: Wood Stoves, Space Heaters and Fireplaces

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Portable Heater Fire Statistics

  • An estimated 900 portable heater fires in residential buildings are reported to U.S. fire departments each year and cause 70 deaths, 150 injuries and $53 million in property loss.
  • Only 2 percent of heating fires in homes involve portable heaters, however, portable heaters are involved in 45 percent of all fatal home heating fires.
  • Portable heater fires in homes peak in January (26 percent).
  • 52 percent of home portable heater fires occur because they are too close to items that can burn.
  • 38 percent of home portable heater fires originate in bedrooms. In these fires, bedding, such as blankets, sheets and comforters, is the leading item first ignited by portable heaters at 25 percent.
Focus on Fire Safety: Portable Heaters

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Each year fire claims the lives of 3,400 Americans, injures 17,500, and causes billions of dollars worth of damage. People living in rural areas are more than twice as likely to die in a fire than those living in mid-sized cities or suburban areas. The misuse of wood stoves, portable space heaters and kerosene heaters are especially common risks in rural areas.

All heating equipment needs space. Keep anything that can burn at least three feet away. Supervise children whenever a wood stove or space heater is being used. Have a three-foot "kid-free" zone around open fires and space heaters.

Portable Heater Fire Safety

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Wood Stoves

Wood stoves cause over 4,000 residential fires every year. Carefully follow the manufacturer's installation and maintenance instructions. Look for solid construction, such as plate steel or cast iron metal. Check for cracks and inspect legs, hinges and door seals for smooth joints and seams. Use only seasoned wood for fuel, not green wood, artificial logs, or trash. In pellet stoves, burn only dry, seasoned wood pellets. Inspect and clean your pipes and chimneys annually and check monthly for damage or obstructions.

Electric Space Heaters

Buy only heaters evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL). Check to make sure it has a thermostat control mechanism, and will switch off automatically if the heater falls over. Heaters are not dryers or tables; don't dry clothes or store objects on top of your heater. Plug space heaters directly into wall outlets and never into an extension cord or power strip. Always unplug your electric space heater when not in use.

Kerosene Heaters

Buy only heaters evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL), and check with your local fire department on the legality of kerosene heater use in your community. Never fill your heater with gasoline or camp stove fuel; both flare-up easily. Only use crystal clear K-1 kerosene. When refueling, allow the appliance to cool first and then refuel outside. Never overfill any portable heater. Use the kerosene heater in a well ventilated room.

Fireplaces

Fireplaces regularly build up creosote in their chimneys. They need to be cleaned out frequently and chimneys should be inspected for obstructions and cracks to prevent deadly chimney and roof fires. Check to make sure the damper is open before starting any fire. Never burn trash, paper or green wood in your fireplace. These materials cause heavy creosote buildup and are difficult to control. Use a screen heavy enough to stop rolling logs and big enough to cover the entire opening of the fireplace to catch flying sparks. Don't wear loose-fitting clothes near any open flame. Make sure the fire is completely out before leaving the house or going to bed. Allow ashes to cool before disposing of them. Place ashes in a tightly covered metal container and keep the ash container at least 10 feet away from your home and any other nearby buildings. Never empty the ash directly into a trash can. Douse and saturate the ashes with water.

Finally, having a working smoke alarm dramatically increases your chances of surviving a fire. And remember to practice a home escape plan frequently with your family.


Video: Fireplace Safety
In this video series, National Fire Academy Deputy Superintendent Rob Neale describes the techniques to build an enjoyable and safe recreational fire in your home. This video describes the materials needed to build a fire in a wood stove or fireplace, while simultaneously addressing fire safety issues. The series includes an overview on inspecting the fireplace, appropriate materials to burn, and how to control the fire to prevent unwanted accidents. Watch the Video »

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