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State fire marshal offers home heating safety tips

As cooler weather arrives, State Fire Marshal Mark Wallace is urging Oregonians to use heating appliances wisely.

“With the onset of cooler weather, I urge citizens to ensure all their heating appliances are in good working order,” says Wallace. Have your woodstoves, fireplaces, chimneys, cleaned and inspected by a qualified specialist before using them. Portable space heaters also pose a high risk. Use these with extreme caution and follow our space heater safety tips.”

Although woodstove and fireplace-related fires are more common, the most deadly home heating fires result from misuse of portable electric heaters.

From 2008 through 2012 in Oregon, there were 1,961 home heating-related fires resulting in nine deaths, 56 injuries, and more than $26.9 million in property loss. Six of the nine fatalities occurred in portable heater-related fires.

When using portable heaters, make sure they come with an automatic tip-over switch and a high-temperature-limit switch. The tip-over switch turns the heater off if it is knocked over. A high-temperature-limit switch prevents the heater from overheating. Remember to keep at least three feet of space between the heater and combustibles such as furniture, curtains, blankets, papers, and people. Inspect for cracked or damaged cords, broken plugs, or loose connections and never use an extension cord or power strip with a portable electric heater.

Baseboard and wall heaters can present a fire hazard, too. These heaters are thermostatically controlled and may turn on without warning when temperatures drop.

If using a fuel-burning space heater, make sure it is designed for indoor use. Read all manufacturer instructions and ensure it is properly vented. Allow the heater to cool before refueling and always refuel outside or in a well-ventilated area.

Have chimney and woodstove flues and vents inspected and cleaned every year by a qualified chimney specialist. Ask them to check for creosote deposits, soot build-up, or physical damage. Always use a sturdy metal or heat-tempered glass to prevent sparks from escaping. Keep the area around the hearth free of debris, decorations, and flammable materials. Be sure to store kindling, fire logs, and wood at least three feet from any heat source. And allow ashes to cool before disposing of them. Dispose of ashes in a tightly covered metal container and place the container outdoors, at least ten feet from the home and any other nearby buildings. Ashes may retain heat for days after they appear to be out.

It’s important to have working smoke alarms in your home during all season of the year. This is a good time to replace any smoke alarm that is 10 years or older and make sure your smoke alarms are working.

Also, make sure your home has a working carbon monoxide alarm in a central location outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home. Home heating and cooking equipment that burn fuels such as gasoline, wood, coal, natural gas, propane, oil and methane are sources of carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide poisoning can be fatal if not detected early.

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