Heaters Are Winter Fire Hazards

SHANNON SALYER
Daily Barometer
Oregon State University, Corvallis

Cold, rainy days, bone-chilling winds that turn umbrellas inside-out, heaters running to their full potential all signs of an Oregon winter.

Space heaters, fireplaces, wood stoves and baseboard heaters are common heating devices among the OSU student population.

Many of these practical sources of heat have hidden dangers though.

Baseboard heaters do not turn off, they are on low which is about 50 degrees. Carla Pusateri, fire prevention officer at the Corvallis Fire Department said. When the temperature falls below 50 degrees, the heaters turn on.

Combustible materials such as clothes and linens placed near baseboard heaters are a danger due to the risk of spontaneous ignition.

In a media release from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, there were 9,900 residential fires and 190 deaths associated with space heaters in the 1999 to 2002 period.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission suggests placing the heater on a hard non-flammable surface and at least three feet away from flammable materials.

The dangers of heaters are not limited to baseboard models, an oversized space heater could cause excess carbon monoxide in a room and possibly death.

When using fireplaces or wood stoves Pusateri suggests having the chimneys and flues inspected and cleaned.

Chimney sweeps and flues need to be inspected from the roof, the side and the bottom. Pusateri said. Creosote can form and cause a fire, or heat up enough to ignite structural walls in an attic or room.

In the last three months, Corvallis has seen four fires ranging from apartment to barn fires.

Boy Scout Troop 186 and several Eagle Scouts have been canvassing local neighborhoods asking residents to test their smoke alarms.

They divided the city into sections and go door to door looking for defective batteries, Pusateri said. Its really nice.

According to Pusateri, 25 percent of home smoke alarms in Corvallis do not function, and 80 percent of fatalities due to fire happened in households that did not have working smoke detectors.

The Corvallis Fire Department urges students to check smoke detectors and replace non-functioning detectors immediately.