According to the U.S. Fire Administration, an estimated 900 portable heater fires in homes are reported to fire departments each year and cause an estimated 70 deaths, 150 injuries and $53 million in property loss.
“We cannot stress enough the importance of following safety precautions when using portable heating devices in your home,” said Julie Mix McPeak, the state fire marshall. “Keeping fire safety in mind can help save lives and property.”
Only 2 percent of heating fires in homes involve portable heaters. However, portable heaters are involved in 45 percent of all fatal heating fires in homes.
Tennessee is not immune to the devastation caused by portable heater fires.
Media coverage of fires here includes frequent reports of incidents involving portable heaters during the winter months. Just last week, such a fire claimed the life of a Collierville man when one of the space heaters he was using in his home came in contact with a flammable object while he slept.
In 2011, portable heating equipment accounted for 70 percent of all heating fire deaths in Tennessee and caused $2.5 million in property damage. The leading factors contributing to ignition in those portable heating fires were abandoned or discarded materials and combustibles being too close to the heat source.
McPeak said residents can prevent a portable heater fire this winter by following a few fire safety steps, such as turning off heaters when everyone is asleep and keeping anything that is flammable at least three feet away from heaters.
She also advised only using a portable heater that has an automatic shut-off that activiates if it is tipped over and one from a recognized testing labratory.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, having a working smoke alarm reduces a person's chance of dying in a fire by half.
For the best protection, fire officials advise residents to install smoke alarms on every level of a home, outside every sleeping area and in every bedroom, and interconnect them if possible. Test smoke alarms monthly and entirely replace any smoke alarm that is 10 years old or older.