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Cold weather brings fire dangers
Stoves, personal heaters can quickly cause a blaze
Detective David Stringer with the Gainesville Fire Department checks a hot water heater for leaks Tuesday inside an apartment in Gainesville. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Heating Safety

  • Have your furnace and wall heaters checked by a professional for safety.
  • Check all space heaters and keep them away from walls, curtains and furniture.
  • Remember to turn off portable heaters when leaving the room or going to bed.
  • Always use the right kind of fuel, specified by the manufacturer, for fuel-burning space heaters.
  • Have a qualified professional install stationary space heating equipment, water heaters or central heating equipment according to the local codes and the manufacturer's instructions.
  • If you have a gas heater or any gas appliances, invest in a carbon monoxide detector.
  • Replace the batteries in all of your smoke detectors and test the smoke alarms to make sure they work.
  • When using heat from a fireplace, wood stove, space heater or other apparatus, use fire safeguards and ventilate properly.
  • Have heating equipment and chimneys cleaned and inspected every year by a qualified professional.
  • Never use your oven to heat your home.

Source: Gainesville Fire Department

With winter not too far off, Gainesville fire officials are stressing home heating safety.

Gainesville Fire Marshal Chad Payne said with cold weather comes an increase in fires and other issues.

The coldest months of the year — often January and February — generate the most fire calls, because people are always trying to find ways to stay warm, Payne said.

"We're getting to our busy season," Payne said. "People come up with the craziest ways to heat their house."

Just last week, two people were killed from carbon monoxide poisoning while sleeping inside a home in Kennesaw. The poisonous gases came from a generator that was placed too close to the home.

"They were using a generator to run a heater, and they didn't ventilate the exhaust from the generator directly to the outside," Payne said.

Because carbon monoxide is virtually impossible to detect with the human senses, it's considered one of the most dangerous aspects of heating. Known as the "Silent Killer," carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless.

"It's a byproduct of combustion, so if you have any type of gas heat, wood heat, anything that is combustible, then it produces (carbon monoxide)," Payne said.

The gas can be detected, however, by various symptoms including lightheadedness, dizziness, nausea and fatigue.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports an average of 500 unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning deaths in the U.S. each year and another 15,000 emergency room visits yearly.

Homes with electric appliances are not at high risk for carbon monoxide poisoning, but fire officials say any home with gas appliances should have a detector installed.

Another way people often are exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide is by leaving a car running in a garage.

"Even if your garage door is open it still doesn't ventilate directly to the outside," Payne said.

While Gainesville hasn't had any deaths related to carbon monoxide poisoning, there have been some deaths from fires caused by improper heating techniques.

"It's usually at night when everybody's asleep and the fire builds," Payne said.

One issue officials often see is homeowners using a stove to heat the house — often leading to a blaze.

"We have seen that in the past," Payne said. "That's a big no-no because they're not designed for heating and they need to be ventilated."

Portable heaters are also a leading cause of fires.

According to the Office of Compliance, about 3,000 fires each year in the U.S. are caused by improper use of a portable heater — the second leading cause of fires behind cooking.

"They put combustibles too close to the heater or they set the heater too close to the bed or the couch or anything that can heat up," Payne said.

The Gainesville Fire Department offers tips regarding carbon monoxide detector use, as well as provides smoke detectors for free.


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