Use home heating equipment carefully or risk fire dangers

January 05, 1991|By Knight-Ridder News Service

The Persian Gulf crisis and escalating heating oil prices are expected to have a strong impact on the alternative heating equipment industry, say fire officials. Many homeowners may choose to use fireplaces and wood stoves more frequently to cut other fuel costs. They need to do so with care.

Heating equipment is the second-leading cause of home fire fatalities, after smoking materials, report officials of the National Fire Protection Association.

Since 1980, an average of more than 800 people have died each year in home fires caused by wood stoves, and portable electric, gas and kerosene heaters. Most of the fires and fatalities could be avoided by taking precautions. When shopping for heating equipment, the NFPA recommends selecting products that have been tested and approved by an independent laboratory. Install and maintain the equipment correctly, and be sure it complies with local fire and building codes. Have your chimney inspected and cleaned, if necessary.

Here are some tips from the association:

Wood stoves

*Burn only wood and be sure the stove is placed on an approved stove board to protect the floor from heat and hot coals.

Portable heaters

*Place both electric-powered and kerosene-fueled portable heaters at least 36 inches away from anything combustible, including wallpaper, furniture, bedding, clothing, pets and people.

*Never leave space heaters on when you leave home or go to bed.

*Don't leave children or pets unattended with space heaters and be sure everyone knows that drying wet mittens or other combustibles over space heaters is a fire danger.

*Check electric heaters for frayed or splitting wires and overheating. Have such problems repaired by a professional before operating the unit.

*Use only kerosene in a kerosene heater. Never use gasoline or any other substitute fuel. When refueling, always turn off the heater and wait until it cools before adding fuel. If you are considering buying a kerosene heater, check first with your local fire officials to be sure the heaters are legal in your community. Store kerosene away from heat or an open flame in an approved container and be sure it is clearly marked.


4( *Creosote, a chemical substance that

forms when wood burns, builds up in chimneys and can cause a chimney fire if not properly cleaned.

*Use a sturdy screen when burning fires.

*Burn only hardwoods. Never burn paper or pine boughs, which can float out of the chimney and ignite your roof or that of a neighbor's house.

*Never use flammable liquids in a fireplace.

*If you are shopping for a factory-built fireplace, choose one listed by a testing laboratory.

Propane gas heaters

*Portable liquid propane gas heaters with self-contained fuel supplies (cabinet heaters) are prohibited for home use by NFPA fire-safety standards.


No matter how careful you are, you and your family always should be prepared in case of fire.

*Be sure to keep a smoke detector on each level of your home. If you sleep with bedroom doors closed, install a detector in each bedroom. Install and clean detectors according to the manufacturer's instruction. Replace batteries at least once a year.

*Have a home escape plan and rehearse it frequently. Make sure everyone recognizes the sound of the smoke detector alarm and knows how to respond. Make sure doors and windows are not blocked. Choose a meeting place outside a safe distance from the house. Post emergency telephone numbers in a central location and teach children how to call for emergency help. Never go back into a burning building.

*Crawl low under smoke. To escape from a smoke-filled room, crawl on the floor beneath the smoke. The air is cleaner and cooler there.

*Stop, drop and roll. If your clothing catches fire, stop, cover your face with your hands, drop to the floor and roll to extinguish the flames. Never run; the air will feed the flames.

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