YORK, Pa. — Sunday morning’s deadly fire in New York City is a grave reminder of the dangers in using space heaters. Thick smoke escaped through an open door and filled an apartment building in the Bronx after a space heater malfunctioned, sparking a fire that killed at least 17 people.
Fires caused by space heaters happen often in the winter months. York Area United Fire and Rescue Battalion Chief Matt Arnold said a space heater caused a fire in his district a few years ago, but a closed door made all the difference.
“The simple act of closing a door kept that thousand degree plus heat from getting into the room where they were sleeping," said Chief Arnold. "So the national message there is close before you doze.”
Space heaters cause about 1,700 fires a year nationwide. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), they are the culprits in 81% of fatal house fires caused by heat. More than half of the fires caused by heating equipment between 2014 and 2018 occurred in the month of January.
Failure to clean equipment was the leading factor contributing to home fires involving heating equipment and accounted for a quarter of all the heating equipment fires, according to a 2021 NFPA report. Often times, space heater fires occur when the equipment is too close to items that can burn—such as furniture, clothing or bedding.
“We definitely want to make sure people keep a good three to five feet of clearance around the space heater," added Chief Arnold. "They do just that. They generate heat. Anything combustible that’s kept right up near those things is an opportunity for a fire to start."
The NFPA has identified several home safety practices that can help to prevent fires caused by heating equipment. These include the following:
- Keep anything that can burn at least three feet away from heating equipment.
- Maintain a three-foot kid-free zone around home fireplaces and space heaters.
- Never use your oven to heat your home.
- Have a qualified professional install stationary space heating equipment, water heaters, and central heating equipment according to local codes and manufacturer’s instructions.
- Have heating equipment and chimneys inspected and cleaned every year by a qualified professional.
- Remember to turn portable heaters off when leaving a room or going to bed.
- Always use the appropriate type of fuel, as specified by the manufacturer, for fuel-burning space heaters.
- Ensure that the fireplace has a sturdy screen to stop embers from flying into the room. Make sure that ashes are cool before placing them in a bin for removal.