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Fire marshal urges space heater safety

The Russellville Fire Department and other fire departments across the county are asking everyone to turn their attention to fire prevention now that cold weather has arrived. One major risk people should be aware of is the use of space heaters.

“Space heaters have and continue to be a problem. Most people don’t realize how dangerous they are,” fire marshal Justin Green said.

Improper research and knowledge about space heaters is a main cause of the fires sparked by space heaters, Green added.

“When I am asked to recommend a good space heater, I generally say there isn’t a good space heater,” Green said. “I only say this because people become complacent with them and place them near combustibles or in areas where they can be turned over easier.”

One good thing, Green added, is some space heaters have what is commonly referred to as “tip protection,” which means if they are tipped over, they automatically turn off. There are also space heaters that are not hot to the touch, which helps reduce the chance of fires starting from the space heater being placed near any combustibles.

Underwriters Laboratory-approved space heaters meet a certain set of standards, like proper wiring for the number of amps used.

“To sum it all up, if you must use a space heater, find one that is UL-approved with tip protection and is cool to the touch. If you find all of that along with a timer and a thermostat, then I’d say you’ve got about the safest space heater available,” Green said.

Space heaters should be placed at least 36 inches away from anything combustible, including upholstery, newspaper, bedding and people. There needs to be a “kid free zone” around any open flame or space heater, and heaters should be placed on a solid, flat surface.

Green urged people to avoid using a heater with a frayed wire, using an extension cord or placing heaters near wet or damp places that could cause deadly electric shocks.

According to the Alabama Association of Fire Chiefs, space heaters account for about 30 percent of home heating fires and 80 percent of home heating fire deaths annually. 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.

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