Are space heaters safe? Simple mistakes can easily start a deadly fire, experts warn.

Are space heaters safe?  Simple mistakes can easily start a deadly fire, experts warn.

Experts say the Bronx fire is not an isolated incident. Space heaters – which by some definitions can include certain types of stoves and fireplaces, in addition to portable electric devices – are common sources of deadly fires.

Story Highlights:

  • “Space heaters can be effective tools for heating up a small space, but you have to use them with care and caution,” said Susan McKelvey, a spokesperson for the nonprofit National Fire Protection Association.

  • U.S. Fire Administrator Lori Moore-Merrell said nearly half of fatal fires involve space heaters: “That’s how dangerous they are.” Moore-Merrell spoke by phone while returning from visiting the site of the Bronx fire, which she called a “devastating tragedy.”

Portable heating devices often serve an important function: keeping people warm inside cold areas with poor heating. In the Bronx fire, residents of the 19-story high-rise said the building’s heating worked but some units were drafty.

Here’s what to know.

When using space heaters, simple safety mistakes can quickly turn deadly.

Portable heaters cause hundreds of fires each year

Portable heaters are involved in about 1,700 fires per year, resulting in about 80 deaths and 160 injuries, the Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates.

Fact? Checked. Make sure you have the real story with the Checking the Facts newsletter. National Fire Protection Association data from 2014 to 2018 links heating equipment broadly to 50,000 fires, 500 civilian deaths and 1,350 civilian injuries on average every year. Space heaters – which the association defines as including heating and wood stoves, portable heaters, local furnaces and fireplace inserts – are the type of heating equipment most often involved in home heating fires, the association said in a press release.

Story continues No sprinklers. No fire escapes. Bronx apartment blaze raises questions about safety doors

Broken windows and charred bricks mark the exterior of a 19-story residential building after a fire erupted in the morning on Sunday in the Bronx borough of New York City. Now, amid the winter months, is the most dangerous time of the year. Nearly half of home heating equipment fires are reported during the months of December, January and February, according to the association.

That’s why heaters should be kept at least 3 feet away from anything that can burn. “Space heaters really do need space,” said Alexander Hoehn-Saric, chair of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

National Fire Protection Association data shows about half of home heating fire deaths are caused by having heating equipment too close to things that can burn, such as upholstered furniture, clothing, mattresses or bedding. How do space heaters start fires?

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