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RFD urges space heater safety

In Alabama, early winter weather can vary from balmy and mild to frigid frost. But as chilly temperatures settle in to stay, families often look for alternative ways to generate heat throughout their homes. Some turn to space heaters – which are good sources of warmth but can be very dangerous. That’s why the Russellville Fire Department is sending out a message of caution in regards to these small warming devices.

Space heaters account for about one-third of home heating fires and 80 percent of home heating fire deaths annually, according to local fire officials.

“Space heaters continue to be a problem,” Russellville fire marshal Justin Green said. “Most people don’t realize how dangerous they are. They think because a large department store or a small mom-and-pop place sells them, that they are OK. Sometimes this is true; however, people don’t research space heaters enough.”

Home heating equipment is a leading cause of home fire deaths in Alabama, with almost half of these fires occurring in the months of December, January and February. Common household mistakes contribute to the majority of these fires, like placing a space heater too close to things that can burn, such as upholstered furniture, clothing, mattress or bedding.

Green said he has what might be surprising advice for those who seek a recommendation on a good space heater: “I generally say there isn’t a good space heater,” Green said. But really, “I only say this because people become complacent with them and place them near combustibles or in areas where they can be tipped over.”

So with attention to a few words of caution, space heaters can be used safely. Green recommended purchasing a heater with “tip protection,” which employs an automatic shut-off if the unit falls over. “Also, they make space heaters that are not hot to the touch,” Green said. “They blow out warm/hot air, but the surface area is not necessarily warm. This helps reduce the chance of fires starting from the space heater being placed near any combustibles.”

Green also urged people to opt for UL (Underwriters Laboratory) approved space heaters. “This basically means that the space heaters meet a certain set of standards from proper wiring for the amount of amps used,” he explained.

Space heaters with times and thermostats are also preferable to more basic models.


The RFD offers the following safety tips, as well:

  • Have a three-foot “kid-free zone” around open fires and space heaters.
  • All heaters need space. Keep things that can burn, such as paper, bedding or furniture, at least 3 feet away from heating equipment.
  • Turn heaters off when going to bed or leaving the room.
  • Place space heater on solid, flat surface.
  • Never use an extension cord with a portable heater.
  • Check the cord before plugging in the heater; if frayed, worn or broken, do not use. Instead, have an electrician replace the cord or replace the heater. Remember: simply putting tape on the cord is not enough to prevent overheating and fire.


  • Keep portable electric heaters away from sinks, tubs and other wet or damp places to avoid deadly electric shocks.


Of course, other methods of home warmth can pose their own dangers. Also recommended is to be sure wood-burning stoves are properly or professionally installed and, when it comes to gas heaters, consider installing carbon monoxide alarms to avoid the risk of carbon monoxide poison. If you smell gas in the heater, do not light it; leave the house and call the fire department or gas company. Caution is also recommended for fireplaces: use a sturdy screen to stop sparks from flying into the room and always cool ashes before disposing of them.