Heating sources linked to rash of Tville fires
Thomasville has experienced a rash of fires in the past two weeks as winter temperatures are forcing people to use a variety of home heaters to stay warm.
Since Feb. 6, four different fires have claimed the life of a Chair City woman, destroyed two businesses and left a pair of homes with major damage. Early indications point to all four blazes starting as a result of some form of heater.
Safety officials urge citizens to take extra precautions when handling heaters in an effort to prevent more fires from occurring.
“We always say that anytime you’re dealing with kerosene or space heaters when the weather turns cold, keep them three feet from any combustible,” said Dolly Hulin, fire and life safety director at Thomasville Fire Department. “A combustible is anything that can burn.”
According to statistics from the National Fire Protection Agency, firefighters respond to more than 60,000 structure fires involving heating equipment per year. Heating equipment causes more than 500 deaths, 1,500 civilian injuries and approximately $9 million in damages annually. Nearly half of all fires occur in December, January and February and heating equipment is involved in roughly 1 in every 5 home fire deaths.
“Usually the increase starts in January and runs through March,” Hulin said. “We’ll start seeing an increase in heater incidents. It’s a bad time of year because most people just forget about it and don’t clean them.”
Having working smoke detectors is one of main steps people can take to protect themselves from a fire. Thomasville Fire Inspector Rocky Watts credits smoke detectors with helping a family escape a Feb. 13 fire on New York Drive that started when combustible material apparently came in contact with a heating element on a water heater. Hulin also recommends every home be fitted with carbon monoxide detectors, as the harmful gas is odorless, colorless and a bi-product of some indoor heaters.
Davidson County Fire Marshal Brad Needham said people need to keep up the maintenance on all heating equipment and inspect them prior to cold weather setting in.
“There is always an increase [in fires] in the winters with heating equipment,” said Needham. “That’s the reason we always encourage people to have their fireplaces and electrical heaters maintained and looked at before winter comes.”
On Feb. 6, a woman lost her life in a fire on Wintbrook Road. That fire appears to have been caused from a kerosene heater. Needham said anyone using kerosene heater should read the owner’s manual first and never leave them unattended.
“There are parameters set up with those that need to be followed,” Needham said. “Make sure you follow the directions.”
A kerosene heater should be filled outside in a well-ventilated area and never when it’s burning. Hulin said gasoline never should be substituted for kerosene.
“Fill them outside,” said Hulin. “A lot of fires actually are started where folks have run out and brought the kerosene to fill it inside the home when it’s hot. They also give off carbon monoxide, so installing an alarm is very important.”
Electrical heaters need to be checked every year for cracked or broken cords, connectors and plugs. Hulin recommends turning all heaters off before going to bed and never plug space heaters into extension cords. Plug all electric heaters directly into the wall. Gas heaters should be installed by a professional and inspected every year.
Hulin added that wood stoves require safety measures. In addition to an annual cleaning, Hulin recommends only burning well-seasoned wood that has been split, stacked and allowed to dry for 12 months. When emptying a wood stove or fireplace, always put hot embers in a metal box away from the home.
“Don’t ever put your ashes out in the backyard because the wind could get a hold of it and blow hot embers underneath the house or a building and cause a fire there,” Hulin said. “Always keep fireplaces screened in to keep embers from popping out.”
Watts said a Feb. 11 fire at 1100-A National Highway may have started as a result of an improperly used wood stove.
People should avoid using home appliances as heat sources. Hulin said it’s common for people to use home ovens for heat, but that can lead to fires.
“Definitely not a good idea,” said Hulin. “What happens is someone will open their stove up and cut the oven on hot. It can cause the stove to overheat and cause a fire.”
Following a few safety tips and doing annual maintenance inspections and cleanings can help homeowners avoid being part of winter’s growing number of fires.
Staff Writer Eliot Duke can be reached at 888-3578, or email@example.com.