U.S. home heating systems still cause home fires and fatalities
NFPA says: “basic safety precautions can minimize risk to associated fires.”
As temperatures drop in the months ahead, home heating systems will soon kick into high gear. However, some of the heat sources that make us feel warm and toasty also represent a leading cause of U.S. home fires and fire fatalities. According to the nonprofit National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)’s latest U.S. home heating fires report, heating equipment - primarily space heaters and fireplaces - caused an estimated 66,100 home structure fires resulting in 480 civilian deaths, 1,660 injuries and $1.1 billion in direct property damage in 2008. The estimated home heating fire total declined 0.5% from 2007.
Lorraine Carli, NFPA’s vice president of communications, says: “The latest home heating fire statistics signal that while we’re seeing a downward trend, there’s still much room for improvement.”
“We’ve certainly witnessed some declines in home heating fire rates over the short- and long-term, which is encouraging,” says Carli. “But in spite of those gains, the actual number of home heating fires and their devastating impact on people and property each year is simply way too high. There’s still much more we can do to become safer from these types of fires.”
Space heaters result in far more fires and losses than central heating devices. On an average, between 2004 and 2008, fixed (stationary) and portable space heaters (excluding fireplaces, chimneys, and chimney connectors, but including wood stoves) annually accounted for one-third (32%) of reported U.S. home heating fires, four out of five (82%) associated civilian deaths, nearly two-thirds (64%) of associated civilian injuries, and half (51%) of associated direct property damage.
In addition, an estimated 15,200 reported creosote fires (23% of all home heating fires) resulted in four civilian deaths, 17 civilian injuries, and $33 million in direct property damage, on average, each year from 2004-2008. Creosote is a sticky, oily, combustible substance created when wood does not burn completely. It rises into the chimney as a liquid and deposits on the chimney wall. It’s suspected that most creosote fires combine “failure-to-clean” fires that were confined to a chimney or flue, or involved solid-fueled space heaters, fireplaces, chimneys and chimney connectors.
Half (49%) of all home heating fires occurred in December, January and February, with most heating equipment fires starting due to a failure to clean equipment (25%), placing a heat source too close to combustibles (14%), and unclassified mechanical failures or malfunctions (13%). The leading cause of home heating fire deaths (52%) was heating equipment being placed too close to things that can burn, such as upholstered furniture, clothing, mattress, or bedding.
“Because home heating fires are largely the result of human error, the majority of them are preventable,” says Carli. “By following basic safety precautions and making some simple modifications and adjustments, people can greatly reduce their risk.”
As everyone prepares for the upcoming heating season, NFPA offers the following advice to stay warm and fire-safe:
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