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Safety First — Using Alternative Home Heating Methods

In preparation for the arrival of colder weather, homeowners have begun seeking alternative and economical methods of keeping warm during the fall and winter months. However, an increase in the use of home heating appliances also increases your risk of home heating fires — the second leading cause of residential fires and fire-related deaths.
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, on average, each year (2008-2010), there were an estimated 50,100 heating fires in the U.S. that resulted in approximately 150 deaths, 575 injuries and $326 million in property damage. Prince William County Department of Fire and Rescue ( urge residents to be vigilant when using alternative heating methods by following these simple safety tips to keep you and your loved ones safe and warm:

Fireplaces, wood stoves and other fuel-fired appliances
Fires that originate from these appliances are referred to as “confined” fires and account for 87% of residential heating fires. For example, wood stoves, the most popular category of wood-burning heaters, causes over 4.000 residential fires each year. Be sure to:

  • Keep fireplaces and woodstoves clean.
  • Clean annually by a certified chimney specialist.
  • Keep area around fireplace and woodstove clean and free of debris, decorations and flammable materials.
  • Always use a metal mesh screen with fireplaces.
  • Install stovepipe thermometers to monitor flue temperatures.
  • Keep air inlets open on woodstoves and fireplaces.
  • If closed, inlets cause creosote buildup and lead to chimney fires.
  • Use fire resistant materials around woodstoves, i.e. walls and floors.
  • Safely Burn Fuels
  • NEVER use flammable liquids to start a fire.
  • Use only seasoned wood.
  • Certain types of wood increases creosote buildup, i.e. soft moist wood.
  •  Build small fires that burn completely and produce less smoke.
  • NEVER leave a fire unattended in a fireplace.
  • Extinguish fire before leaving the house or going to bed.
  • ALWAYS remove ashes in a covered metal container and store at least 10 feet away from your home and any nearby buildings.

Portable Heaters

According to U.S. Fire Administration, an estimated 900 portable heater fires in residential buildings occur each year resulting in 70 deaths, 150 injuries and $53 billion in property loss. Reports indicate:

  • 45% of all fatal home heating fires involve portable heaters.
  • 52% of home portable heating fires occur because they are too close to items that can burn.

Kerosene Heaters

  •  Buy only Underwriter’s Laboratory/UL-approved heaters.
  • Check with 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 and increase the risk of fire.
  • Use only fuels appropriate for appliance.
  • Refuel outside and only after heater has cooled.
  • DO NOT use kerosene heaters in small enclosed areas.
  • Potential for carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • When using, keep a window ajar or the door open.
  • Annually, clean kerosene heaters and replace wicks.
  • Electric Space Heaters
  • Buy only heaters with Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) safety listing.
  • Be sure it has a thermostat control mechanism and automatically switches off if tipped over.
  • ALWAYS unplug when not in use.
  • Avoid using extension cords.
  • NEVER use frayed or damaged cords.
  • Whether you’re using a stationary or portable heating appliance:
  • Keep anything that can burn at least 3 feet away.
  • Always supervise children and pets when in use.

To significantly increase your chances of surviving a fire in your home — by more than 82% — install smoke alarms and sprinklers in the home. In addition, develop and practice a home fire escape plan and be sure everyone is familiar with the plan.

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