CPSC Warns of Deadly Fire and Carbon Monoxide Hazards with Winter Home Heating

January 28, 2009
Release Number: 09-109

According to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), there have been more than 150 residential fires that resulted in more than 200 deaths since Thanksgiving. These statistics have led the USFA and fire chiefs to declare the holiday season and start of the new year as one of the deadliest in recent memory.

As families look for ways to save money in these tough economic times, the concern over additional fire deaths and carbon monoxide poisonings from alternative heating sources is heightened. The U. S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is urging consumers to keep safety in mind when it comes to heating their homes this winter.

Home heating equipment is among the top causes of fires and CO poisonings. From 2003 through 2005, there was an annual average of 57,300 fires and 270 fire deaths associated with portable heaters, central heating systems, and fireplaces and chimneys. There were also 68 deaths, on average, from carbon monoxide poisoning each year associated with these products.

CPSC urges consumers to:

-Schedule a professional inspection each year of all fuel-burning home heating systems, including furnaces, boilers, fireplaces, wood stoves, water heaters, chimneys, flues and vents.

-Take precautions when using space heaters, fireplaces or other heating sources to help stay warm this winter.

-Install smoke alarms and carbon monoxide (CO) alarms in the home and check that the batteries are fresh and working.

2009 is just weeks old, yet there have already been dozens of deaths from fires in the home. Reports of residential fire deaths in January include:

-Eight people died including a mother, her boyfriend and her four sons age 6 months to 10 years old, in their Richland, New York home. There were no smoke alarms in the home.

-A woman was killed in her Detroit home by a fire believed to have been caused by a space heater that was too close to a chair.

-Three people, including 13- and 15-year-old sisters and their older male relative, died in their Oklahoma home. Space heaters and an electric stove were being used for heat.

CPSC urges consumers to follow these home heating safety tips:

Space heaters:

-Place space heaters on a level, hard and nonflammable surface (such as a ceramic tile floor), not on rugs or carpets or near bedding or drapes. Keep the heater at least three feet from bedding, drapes, furniture and other flammable materials. Keep children and pets away from space heaters.

-To prevent the risk of fire, NEVER leave a space heater on when you go to sleep or place a space heater close to any sleeping person. Turn the heater off if you leave the area.

-Never use gasoline in a kerosene space heater. Even small amounts of gasoline mixed with kerosene can increase the risk of a fire.

-Use a space heater that has been tested to the latest safety standards and certified by a nationally-recognized testing laboratory. These heaters will have the most up-to-date safety features; older space heaters may not meet the newer safety standards. An unvented gas space heater that meets current safety standards will shut off if oxygen levels fall too low.

-Do not use portable propane space heaters indoors or in any confined space unless they are specifically designed for indoor use. Always follow the manufacturer’s directions for proper use.

Fireplaces:

-Have flues and chimneys inspected for leakage and blockage by creosote or debris.

-Open the fireplace damper before lighting a fire and keep it open until the ashes are cool. An open damper may help prevent build-up of poisonous gases inside the home.

-Store fireplace ashes in a fire resistant container and cover it with a lid. Keep the container outdoors and away from combustibles.

Stoves and Ovens:

-Never use electric or gas stoves to heat the home. They are not intended for that purpose and can cause fires and CO poisoning.

  •  A soundbite on the increase in fires in early 2009 is available here in mp3 format; about 300 kilobytes in length) 
  • A soundbite on safety of home heating equipment is available here in mp3 format; about 280 kilobytes in length) 
  • A soundbite on smoke and carbon monoxide alarms is available here in mp3 format; about 200 kilobytes in length)