Springfield fire officials warn residents to use heaters safely

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Portable electric heaters can keep residents warm this winter, but they can also cause fires if not used safely.

Springfield Fire Division Assistant Chief Matt Smith said heaters are the cause of many fires in Springfield and there can be big consequences.

“About 40% of all fire deaths involving space heaters are caused by portable electric models,” he said. “In almost all of these cases, the heater was incorrectly used.”

Heater fires have impacted the local area. In 2016, 16-year-old Champaign County teen Jordan Edley was killed in a fire. The official cause of the flames was undetermined, but fire officials said there were six electrical heaters inside the home at the time of the blaze.

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Also in 2016, Bethel Twp. Fire officials said a home on the 300 block of Queen Road was possibly started due to a space heater. The blaze displaced two people.

In 2017, a space heater likely sparked a fire in Champaign County that severely injured a woman.

In 2018, the National Fire Protection Agency found that space heaters account for 43% of U.S. home heating fires. A different study found that between 2012 and 2016, U.S. local fire departments responded to about 52,000 heating-related fires a year.

The NFPA found that heating equipment is the second leading cause of U.S. home fires and the third-leading cause of home fire deaths.

Smith provided a safety list from the National Fire Protection Association to advise residents on how to properly use heaters this winter. The first tip is to buy a heater with the seal of a qualified testing laboratory. Making sure that the heater you purchase has an automatic overheat shutoff and an automatic tilt over shutoff control is also important to prevent fires.

“Most modern heaters will have these things,” the association said.

“Beware of using an older model; check for frayed power cords, inoperative controls, or other damage and wear to the unit before using,” the association said.

The way residents use the heaters can go a long way to preventing fires as well.

First, always plug the heater directly into a wall outlet and never use any kind of extension cord or surge protector.

The extension outlets “are not designed to handle the high current flow needed for a space heater and can overheat or even catch fire due to the added energy flow,” Umatilla County Fire District in Oregon said in a now-viral Facebook post.

Never leaving the heater on when someone is not inside the room is also important, Smith said, and unplug the heater when going to bed.

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“Keep the heater at least 3 feet from anything that can burn, including people, and especially children,” the association said. “Beware of creating a trip hazard with power cord, and keep the heater out of the way of foot traffic.”

The NFPA said “More than half of all home heating fire deaths resulted from fires that began when heating equipment was too close to things that can burn, such as upholstered furniture, clothing, mattresses or bedding.”

Other tips include normal fire safety procedures like never blocking an exit, Smith said. The NFPA also advises to not use an oven to heat a home.


Facts and Figures:

40%: Fire deaths involving space heaters caused by portable electric models.

43%: Percent of U.S. fire deaths caused by heater fires

52,000: Heating-related fires in the United States per year between 2012 and 2016.

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