The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is urging the public to use added caution when heating their homes this winter. Home heating equipment is the leading cause of U.S. home fires during the months of December, January, and February, when nearly half (48 percent) of all U.S. home heating equipment fires occur. January is the leading month for home heating fires.
“Clearly, the coldest months of the year is when we see the largest share of home heating fires,” said Lorraine Carli, vice president of Outreach and Advocacy at NFPA. “It’s critical that people understand when and where home heating fires tend to happen so that they can take the needed steps to minimize those risks.”
According to NFPA’s latest heating equipment statistics, an average of 48,530 home heating fires occurred each year between 2014 and 2018, resulting in an estimated 500 civilian deaths, 1,350 civilian injuries, and $1.1 billion in direct property damage.
Space heaters were most often responsible for home heating equipment fires, accounting for more than two in five fires, as well as the vast majority of associated deaths and injuries. Fireplaces or chimneys were involved in approximately three in 10 home heating equipment fires. Other leading types of home heating equipment fires included central heat systems and water heaters, with each accounting for approximately one in 10 heating equipment fires.
A failure to clean equipment was the leading cause of home heating equipment fires, with creosote build-up in chimneys representing a particular issue. Fires in which a heat source was too close to combustible materials caused the largest shares of civilian deaths, injuries, and direct property damage.
“While home heating equipment does present potential fire hazards, the good news is that the vast majority of these fires can be prevented by making sure heating equipment is in good working order and monitored carefully,” said Carli.
NFPA offers these tips and guidelines for safely heating your home this winter:
- Heating equipment and chimneys should be cleaned and inspected every year by a qualified professional.
- Keep anything that can burn at least three feet (one meter) away from all heating equipment, including furnaces, fireplaces, wood stoves, and space heaters.
- Always use the right kind of fuel, as specified by the manufacturer, for fuel-burning space heaters.
- Create a three-foot (one meter) “kid-free zone” around open fires and space heaters.
- Make sure space heaters are in good working order and used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Turn portable heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed.
- Fireplaces should have a sturdy screen to stop sparks from flying into the room. Ashes should be cool before putting them in a metal container, which should be placed outside at least 10 feet away from your home.
- All fuel-burning equipment should be vented to the outside to avoid carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.
- If you smell gas in your gas heater, do not light the appliance. Leave the home immediately and call your local fire department or gas company.
- Make sure smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are located throughout the home; test them monthly to ensure that they’re working properly.
[Reprinted from NFPA press release of January 14, 2021]