The original item was published from January 14, 2021 11:07 AM to January 14, 2021 5:53 PM
MUSCATINE, Iowa – During the New Year’s weekend a trailer fire in Muscatine resulted in fire damage to one room and smoke damage throughout the trailer. The resident was lucky. The quick response of the Muscatine Fire Department prevented a much bigger tragedy.
The investigation into the fire determined the initial cause was a heating device left too close to combustibles. The investigation also found several other space heaters plugged into extension cords, placed in close proximity to combustibles, and smoke detectors present but the batteries taken out.
“This fire brings up safety topics of smoke alarm maintenance, use of extension cords, and the use and spacing of space heaters,” Mike Hartman, Muscatine Fire Department Assistant Chief and Fire Marshal, said.
Heating, cooking, decorations, and candles all contribute to an increased risk of fire during the winter months. The National Fire Protection Association says that it is important to pay careful attention to the proper use and maintenance of heating equipment, which are one of the major causes of residential fires.
The primary culprits in home heating fires are open-flame space heaters, portable electric heaters, and wood-burning fireplaces and stoves. Improperly installed or maintained central heating equipment can also be a cause of fire in the home, although not as often.
Heating is the second leading cause of residential fires, deaths, and injuries in the United States with December, January, and February the peak months. Space heaters are the cause in two out of every five home fires.
Hartman said fire code does allow space heaters but they are required to be plugged directly into the outlet.
“Space heaters pull a lot of power and can overheat extension cords and multi-plug adapters,” Hartman said. “The heaters need to be properly listed (kind of a given anymore), and spaced at least three feet from combustible materials.”
Carbon monoxide (CO) is often called the invisible killer. This odorless, colorless gas is created when fuels such as gasoline, wood, coal, propane, etc. do not burn completely. In the home, heating and cooking equipment that burn fuel are potential sources of CO. Carbon monoxide incidents are more common during the winter months, and in residential properties.
The Muscatine Fire Department suggests a few simple precautions to help reduce the risk of a home heating tragedy, either by fire or deadly carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning:
SMOKE & CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTORS
Smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are two essential tools every resident needs to protect their families and their homes. Working smoke alarms provide an early warning of a fire and allows residents to exit the home quickly and safely according to the National Fire Prevention Association. Carbon monoxide detectors are also a life saving device, notifying residents of the odorless gas that could be fatal.
Residents should check the batteries in each device located in the home at least twice a year and replace each device after 10 years (always write the date of installation on the device).
EXTENSION CORDS & POWER STRIPS
Most extension cords and power strips are meant to handle lower amounts of current and cannot handle the high currents space heaters draw. Extension cords and power strips are also a tripping hazard in the home and that could be harmful to a person and also cause the space heater to fall over.
Space heaters need to be plugged directly into the wall as heating elements can reach 500-600 degrees Fahrenheit. You should also keep an eye on them when it is in use.
“There is a common theme in space heater fires,” Hartman said. “They were left unattended.”
Other common safety tips:
Winter Fire Safety video
Portable Heater Fire Safety video
FEMA Up In Smoke – Space Heaters video