Safety tips for space heaters and other cold weather dangers

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - With temperatures dipping, many of you will want to stay a little warmer when heading to bed. But Columbia fire officials there are potential fire risks when using alternative sources to heat your home.

A report released by the U.S. Fire Administration estimates 108,400 winter residential building fires occur every year in the United States. The fires annually result in an estimated average of 945 deaths, 3,825 injuries, and $1.7 billion dollars in property loss.

Cooking is the leading cause of winter residential building fires at 36 percent, followed by heating at 23 percent. Winter residential building fires occur mainly in the early evening hours, peaking from 5pm to 8pm.

Columbia Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins says the space heater is a popular option families use to stay warm, but if not used safely it can start a fire in a matter of minutes.

"Especially when you're talking about kerosene heaters, space heaters," said Jenkins. "They will have them too close to anything that is combustible, so we want to make sure that they have them at least three feet from anything that can burn."

Chief Jenkins said that when using space heaters, you should never sleep or leave your home with a space heater running. Keep the heater on a flat surface to keep it from tipping over, and keep your children and pets away from heaters.

Homeowners can take other simple steps to help prevent devastating fires:

  • Keep all heat sources at least three feet away from any flammable object.
  • If you are buying a space heater, consider purchasing on with an automatic shut-off feature.
  • Remember to keep your Christmas tree hydrated to prevent drying out.

Anthony Jordan with Jordan & Sons Plumbing says it is important not to overlook your pipes when the temperatures drop. With a few quick checks, Jordan says you can help ensure you will not return home from a holiday vacation to any unwanted surprises this winter.

  • Keep the thermostat up rather than down at about 68 degrees to help prevent your pipes form freezing.
  • Open all cabinets under your sinks to allow warm air to flow through.
  • Consider letting your faucets drip at a minimal flow to keep pipes from freezing and make sure that drains are clear to let the water flow through.
  • Outside your home be sure and insulate any faucets and disconnect all hoses.
  • Never try to thaw out frozen pipes with an open flame; try using a hairdryer to gradually warm the pipes instead.
Copyright 2010 WIS. All rights reserved. WMBF contributed to this report.