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Space heaters, fireplaces ignite Tampa Bay houses; carbon monoxide sickens family

TAMPA — Cold weather brought bad news for firefighters on Sunday as people's attempts to keep warm started three house fires in Tampa and caused a St. Petersburg family to fall ill from carbon monoxide poisoning.

First, Emmanuel Sims put four oil-filled space heaters around his house before he went to bed Saturday. He set one of them a little too close to the linens on a bed in an empty bedroom, Tampa Fire Rescue officials said.

Predawn Sunday, his house at 8117 N 19th St. went up in a blaze. A smoke alarm woke him, possibly saving his life, fire officials said in a statement. But flames consumed half of his house.

Later that morning, homeowner Patricia Alchediak of 3609 N Dartmouth Ave. received a surprise when smoke from her fireplace began leaking into her house.

Smoke flowed through the house's walls and not through the chimney as it was supposed to travel. Turned out, the mortar between bricks in the old fireplace failed, allowing heat from the fireplace and chimney to seep into the home's wooden walls and attic, fire officials said.

Tampa Fire Rescue crews pulled down wallboard surrounding the fireplace and opened up a small area on the roof and quickly extinguished the small but growing fire inside the home's walls and attic, fire officials said in a statement.

Just before 1 p.m., fire crews were sent out again to another emergency at 2016 E Humphrey St., where a heating coil in a central heat/air-conditioning unit was suspected of lighting the old wood-frame house on fire.

Thomas Law, 72, the longtime homeowner, and a friend, Wayne Dunbar, 46, escaped without injury.

No one was hurt in any of the fires, which caused at least $145,000 in damage to all three homes.

Around the same time Law's fire was reported, paramedics on the other side of Tampa Bay were treating three family members sickened by carbon monoxide after using a charcoal barbecue grill to heat their home, officials said.

A 77-year-old man, his 72-year-old wife and their 41-year-old daughter were taken to St. Petersburg General Hospital for treatment. Their names were not released.

According to St. Petersburg Fire Rescue, the family was using the grill to heat their home at 1201 32nd St. N because the electricity was out. After using the grill as a heat source for about 12 hours, the family became sick and firefighters responded just after 12:30 p.m.

A St. Petersburg Fire Rescue hazardous materials team measured the carbon monoxide at 176 parts per million, well over the 100 ppm that could be lethal, said St. Petersburg Fire Rescue spokesman Joel Granata. The hazmat team ventilated the structure.

The most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain and confusion, Granata said.

The outage, which affected 14 customers, was caused by a blown transformer, according to a Progress Energy spokeswoman.

Times staff writer Rita Farlow contributed to this report. Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or jgeorge@sptimes.com.

. Fast facts

Tips for safely staying warm

• All heaters need space. Keep things that can burn, such as paper, bedding or furniture, at least 3 feet away from heating equipment, fireplaces and stoves.

• Place portable space heaters on a hard, level, nonflammable surface. Do not put space heaters on rugs or carpets, near bedding or drapes, and keep children and pets away. Look for a model that shuts off automatically if the space heater tips over. Do not use heating equipment to dry wet clothing.

• Never use the stove, oven, or gas or charcoal grills to heat your home.

• Never leave portable heaters, wood-burning stoves or fireplaces unattended. Turn off before leaving or going to bed.

• Keep the fire in the fireplace by using a glass or metal screen large enough to catch sparks and rolling logs.

Source: American Red Cross

Space heaters, fireplaces ignite Tampa Bay houses; carbon monoxide sickens family 01/10/10 [Last modified: Sunday, January 10, 2010 9:52pm]
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