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Space heaters, carbon monoxide poisoning keep firefighters busy in winter

(Josh Wilson, KSL-TV)

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SALT LAKE CITY — The demand for heat in these cold conditions is putting a number of homes at risk.

Fire crews are busy fighting house fires because people don't realize the hidden dangers of popular heating equipment.

Just because space heaters don’t emit flames doesn’t mean they’re not as dangerous as an open flame, according to fire officials.

“One of the big increases we see in the months from November until about March is an increase in fires as a result of heating equipment,” said Lynn Schofield, Provo fire marshal.

A 2013 report from the National Fire Protection Association shows heating equipment burned more than 60,000 homes and caused nearly 500 deaths. Space heaters caused 80 percent of those fires.

“That is the third leading cause of death by fire in the United States, second to smoking and kitchen fires,” said Schofield.

Schofield recommended people use space heaters that are UL listed by a testing agency. He also recommended using space heaters that have an automatic shut-off — just in case it tips over by accident.

“When you go to bed at night or when you leave your house, make sure that it's (space heater) turned off."

"When you go to bed at night or when you leave your house, make sure that it's (space heater) turned off." Lynn Schofield, Provo fire marshal

Another risk this time of year for firefighters is carbon monoxide poisoning — a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas. Schofield said in addition to wood-burning fireplaces, people will sometimes rely on using gas appliances to stay warm.

“The problem is anytime you have a flame-fired piece of equipment, whether it's your water heater, your stove, your natural gas fireplace,” said Schofield, “you create carbon monoxide.”

And when carbon monoxide essentially suffocates your oxygen-rich red blood cells, the chemical reaction can cause light-headedness, vomiting, memory loss and eventually death.

Schofield also recommend residents contact their local fire department for help and information about appliances and carbon monoxide poisoning.


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