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Beware of fire hazards with all heating devices
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Ceres Fire Marshal Bryan Nicholes is recommending that members of the community exercise particular caution when using any kind of heating devices or systems during these cold weather months. According to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), fires that originated from "home heating" account for almost 50 percent of fire-related fatalities.

As recently stated by the USFA "...the high prices of heating fuels and utilities have caused many Americans to search for alternative home heating sources..." This has led people to make greater use of electric space heaters, heaters that use propane, kerosene or diesel, fireplaces, wood burning stoves, and various home-made devices. The two major issues with all of the aforementioned heating devices are: 1) failure to properly maintain and clean them; and, 2) placing these heaters too close to combustible materials.

In terms of properly maintaining heating devices, the list of things to do is lengthy, but I will cover some of them. The major problems that lead to heater and fireplace malfunctions stem from the effects of not using them, long term storage or simple wear and tear of the items. Fireplaces accumulate creosote which must occasionally be removed. Bird nests, leaves and twigs frequently are the source of chimney clogs and one of the most common problems is that people fail to completely open the fireplace flue before igniting a fire. The various other heating devices can accumulate dust, dirt and debris when not used for several months at a time. Rodents, spiders and other insects can also leave behind debris that catch fire or otherwise interfere with the safe operation of heaters.

When flammable materials like furniture, curtains, carpets, bedding and the like are too close to a heating source, they can easily catch fire. Therefore, use a fireplace screen to keep sparks from flying out, keep heaters at least three feet away from things that can burn and use the kind that automatically turn off in the event they are tipped over. Electric cords should be in good condition, free of fraying or other damage. It is never a good idea to leave a space heater on when out of the room or going to bed. It may be tempting to use the oven to get some quick heat into the kitchen, but it is not advisable to do so for venting, fire and general safety reasons.

Portable heaters that use kerosene, diesel or propane pose their own challenges in the indoor environment. In my view, there is so much potential for trouble that I urge people to not use them in a residential home environment. They may be okay in warehouses, garages or other buildings with a lot of ventilation, but they are, in general, more dangerous than their electric counterparts. Any device that heats with an open flame (and uses flammable liquid fuel, in particular) has much more opportunity for accidental spillage and other mishaps that can easily lead to burning down an entire house. There is also the problem of carbon monoxide accumulating in the home as well as the depletion of oxygen as the device burns its fuel. If someone chooses to use the kinds of heaters discussed here, despite the fact that it is ill-advised, it is imperative to place the device on a non-flammable surface, away from any combustible materials. It is essential to maintain adequate ventilation at all times.

A last, but important safety measure is to make liberal use of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Smoke detectors, in particular, are inexpensive and carbon monoxide detectors are affordable as well. They should be installed in every bedroom and all other rooms in the home if possible. They must be checked each month and batteries replaced annually. These devices, when properly maintained, are proven life and property savers. For more detailed information about home heating and fire safety, go to: