Portable space heaters might be convenient and even help save energy in some cases, but they are also the leading cause of home fires during December, January and February and second only to cooking equipment as the cause of home fires year-round.
Although space heaters were responsible for 32 percent of home heating fires in 2008, they were the most deadly, accounting for 82 percent of the fire deaths relating to home heating, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
One of the most common causes of space heater home fires is failure to give space heaters their space, by placing them too close to things that will burn and using the wrong fuel (such as in the case of kerosene heaters).
A safe place for space heaters is a minimum of three feet away from anything burnable (furniture, drapes, papers etc.), away from children and pets, and out of doorways and exits.
Space heaters should also be kept away from water sources such as spigots, tubs and showers to avoid serious risk of electric shock.
Avoid using extension cords with space heaters. Plug electric-powered space heaters into an outlet with sufficient capacity and never into an extension cord, which can heat up and start a fire by igniting nearby combustibles.
Kerosene heaters need their space while operating and when being fueled. Fill kerosene heaters in a well-ventilated area away from heat sources and only when the heater is completely cooled.
Use only the type of kerosene specified by the manufacturer.
Never use gasoline.
Even if you have placed your heater a safe distance from anything that can burn, always turn it off before you leave the house or go to sleep.
Looking for a new space heater? Purchase one that has a safety device that turns it off automatically if it is tipped over and one that bears the label of a recognized testing laboratory.
Check for product recalls at www.cpsc.gov.
Space heaters can be useful and convenient, but always remember: they need their space.
Washington Township Fire Department Fire Marshal Alan Perkins submitted the Smoke Signals column.