Portable space heaters caused nearly 2,000 fires per year. Here’s how to stay safe.
Tuesday is supposed to be one of the coldest days of the winter in the tristate area. This means that many families may turn on space heaters to stay warm.
But each year nearly 2,000 fires are caused by portable space heaters, including a deadly fire in the Bronx this week that left 17 people dead and over a dozen more injured.
FDNY officials say that this fire was one of the deadliest first in New York City in decades. It was caused by a malfunctioning space heater. The issue caught the attention of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
“CPSC is investigating this tragic fire in the Bronx. And we’re working directly with New York City authorities to get to the bottom of it. We don’t want to see this happen to any other families,” says CPSC spokesperson Patty Davis.
According to CPSC data, portable heaters cause 1,700 fires a year, killing 80 people and causing $62 million in damage. The agency believes that many of those fires could be prevented.
“We’d like that to go to zero. You need to make sure that you’re using them as safely as possible,” says Davis.
Experts say that space heaters should only be used on a floor that is hard and level. They should never be used on rugs or on a shelf or table where they can get knocked over. The heater should also be kept at least three feet away from anything flammable, including curtains, bedding and furniture. An electric space heater should only be plugged directly into the wall.
“Because if you plug it into some type of extension cord or power strip, it could easily overheat and there could be a fire,” says Davis.
New York City fire officials say that the fire in the Bronx was caused by a space heater that ran uninterrupted for several days. Experts say that this is also not a good idea. A portable heater should never be left unattended or while the user is asleep.
One option to consider is an oil-filled radiator. Unlike gas or electric models, it will continue to put out heat for a while, even after it is turned off.
Space heaters are a lot safer now than they were 10 or 20 years ago. Many have built-in safety features like automatic shutoffs if they fall over or stay on for a certain amount of time. But experts say that those should be used for added protection and are not a substitute for playing it safe.
The CPSC also has a list of space heaters recalled for safety issues.