Winter house fire spike could be avoided by smart heating

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SALT LAKE CITY — During the cold winter months, many people crank up their space heater to feel that immediate, burning warmth.

However, alternative heat sources like space heaters come with a different caliber of dangers for the home. As people try to keep themselves warm, their homes get damaged from the heat and fires that accompany it.

For Utah Disaster Kleen-up, a Draper-based company that restores water, fire and flood damage, business has been booming with the cold temperatures.

"Cold-weather related issues are all the issues right now," said Eric Fairbanks, marketing director for Utah Disaster Kleen-up. "We have been going around the clock non-stop."

Regardless of the heat source used, Fairbanks said it's a good idea to take a minute to check the heating source before using it.

"Make sure the filters are clean and operational," he said. "The couple of minutes you take to make sure everything is operational will probably save you thousands of dollars."

A wood-burning stove led to a house fire in Harrisville Monday evening, when the chimney to became too hot. The homeowner, Luke Nelson, started a fire in his basement to warm up his house and 20 minutes later his neighbor noticed flames coming from the roof, according to investigators.

"(It was) basically a chimney fire that got into the attic and then vented out the swamp cooler," said Dave Wade, deputy fire chief of the Northview Fire District.

Though wood burning stoves are a common heating source in cold months, Jasen Asay, spokesman for the Salt Lake City Fire Department, said people often use their cooking stoves for heat and warned against it.

Winter fires by the numbers
  • Fires in one- and two-family dwellings account for 67 percent of all winter residential building fires.
  • Cooking is the leading cause of all winter residential building fires.
  • Winter residential building fires occur mainly in the early evening hours, peaking from 5 to 8 p.m.
  • Although at its highest in December, residential building fire incidence is collectively highest in the 3 winter months of January, February, and March.
Source: FEMA

"People will think it's a good idea to use their oven to heat their home," he said. "Those were made to cook food, not to heat homes."

Though areas of the country, like Utah, are plagued with fires during the hot summer months, more residential fires occur during the winter than any other time of the year and ultimately lead to injuries, deaths and building damage, according to FEMA.

"Winter residential building fires result in an estimated average of 945 deaths, 3,825 injuries and $1,708,000,000 in property loss each year," according to their website. Experts recommend keeping a close eye on the heating source, whether it's a space heater, a wood burning fireplace or something else, to make sure it doesn't get too hot or catch a nearby object on fire.

But in addition to closely monitoring the heat source and routinely checking the functionality of furnaces and chimneys, the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) has a 10-part checklist called "Get Ahead of the Winter Freeze" to help homeowners protect themselves against house fires. The list includes tips on smoke alarms, carbon monoxide alarms, space heaters, fire place safety and furnace inspection.

For a full list of NFPA's tips and checklist, visit their website.

Contributing: Cait Orton


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