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Beware dangers of space heaters

And now, for this season's lesson in safety, as the husks rain down off the bamboo and the evening air achieves that pleasant nip that makes you glad you're no longer up north:

Be wary of space heaters.

Be wary of space heaters.

Be wary of space heaters.

Let us run through the archives for evidence:

February 1957: Two children fatally burned in Sarasota. Fire caused by oil space heater.

January 1977: Five dogs dead in Safety Harbor. Space heater toppled off a stereo.

December 1989: Woman and three children killed in Santa Rosa Beach. A blanket atop a space heater caught fire.

December 1995: Man in Pasco died in Christmas fire. Space heater.

Monday evening, Nov. 8, 2010, at 10:30 p.m.: Five children in Citra died in a house fire. Probable cause: space heater.

Over and over, year after year.

Space heaters caused an average of 3,800 fires a year between 2005 and 2007, resulting in an average of 115 deaths and 250 injuries a year, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Those bald numbers anesthetize the pain, the doctor visits and burials.

Of house fires caused by heating devices, space heaters are responsible for 82 percent of the deaths, according to a study from the National Fire Prevention Association. That's because, "Typically people are very close to the ignition source," says Lorraine Carli, a spokeswoman for the association.

The young and old, under 5 and over 65, are the most usual victims.

It happens in Houston and Milwaukee and Cleveland and everywhere, but mostly in the South, the numbers show. Why the South? The fire prevention agency says space heater usage is high here because more people can't afford to heat their homes and because overall demand for heating is low.

Home heating equipment is the second leading cause of residential fires. Cooking equipment is first.

In the summers we read of drowning deaths in swimming pools.

In the winters it's fires caused by space heaters. Every year, we pull them from garages and attics, out from behind the Christmas ornaments in Tupperware bins, when the night chill settles in. We blow the off-season dust from the coils, plug them in and smell the burn.

"Every year, as soon as the temperatures drop, we see one of these horrendous fires that remind us that people need to be extremely careful using space heaters," said Carli.

"Every year, fire officials beat the drum. Heat your home safely," said Capt. Bill Wade, a spokesman for Tampa Fire Rescue.

Good news: Fires and deaths from home heating equipment are decreasing; fires caused by home heating in 2008 were down 72 percent from 1980.

That's due in part to new technology.

You can buy a modern space heater for less than $40 that comes equipped with its own circuit breaker and automatic shutoffs when it is toppled or clogged or when it overheats.

Some of us still rely on Old Trusty, with the coil springs that glow sun-orange.

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report.

.Fast facts

Tips for safe heating

• Keep anything that can burn at least 3 feet away from heating equipment.

• Have a three-foot "kid-free zone" around open fires and space heaters.

• Have heating equipment and chimneys cleaned and inspected every year by a qualified professional.

• Turn off portable heaters when leaving the room or going to bed.

• Always use the right kind of fuel, specified by the manufacturer, for fuel-burning space heaters.

• Test smoke alarms monthly.

Source: National Fire Protection Agency

Beware dangers of space heaters 11/12/10 [Last modified: Friday, November 12, 2010 9:42pm]
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