There are few images as synonymous with warmth, comfort, and simple "coziness" as a fire burning in the fireplace. It is a sight enjoyed by many during the holiday season (including hot cocoa and s'mores lovers of all ages!). However, a recent news report serves as a reminder that fires can also be powerful, dangerous, and destructive. Space heater fires are particularly common this time of year, including in temperate climates like ours, where it can be more efficient to heat room-by-room rather than heating an entire dwelling.
When a fire is sparked by a defective product, including a faulty portable heater, our home fire injury lawyer at The Pittman Firm, P.A. is ready to fight for the compensation burn victims need and deserve, a fight that helps prevent future tragedies by taking faulty products off the market and forcing companies to place safety above profit.
It was 5:30 in the morning on December 18 when, as reported by WJHG, a fire erupted in an East Callaway Heights mobile home. A family of four, including two young children, was inside the Dogwood Way home when the flames broke out. All four were taken to the hospital for treatment, including at least one being treated for smoke inhalation. According to the State Fire Marshall's Office, the fire began in a back bedroom, and was most likely sparked by a space heater. Flames gutted the dwelling, re-igniting twice on Wednesday and once again the next morning. Officials are continuing to investigate, but the fire appears to have been accidental.
The National Fire Protection Association reports that heating equipment was a factor in approximately 53,600 home structure fires in the United States during 2011, a figure that accounts for 14% of reported home fires that year. The heating-related blazes claimed 400 civilian lives, resulted in 1,520 civilian injuries, and caused $893 million in property damage. Space heaters, including portable and stationary units, caused a full third (33%) of home heating fires between 2007 and 2011 and accounted for 4 out of 5 (81%) home heating fire fatalities. Looking at all forms of home heating fires, 50% of the blazes occurred in the 3 months of December, January, and February.
The NFPA provides a number of safety tips for consumers, including maintaining a 3-foot buffer area between heaters and flammable material. Notably, having items that can burn (ex. mattresses, other furniture items, clothing, etc.) too close to heating equipment was the number one factor contributing to fatal home heating fires, leading to 53% of home fire deaths. A similar 3-foot kid-free zone should also be maintained around open fired and space heaters. Fireplaces should also have a sturdy spark screen in place. Ovens should never be used as home heating equipment.
Keeping equipment in functioning order is also essential. Professionals should install all stationary heating equipment, including water heaters, and should inspect equipment and chimneys annually (28% of all home heating fires involved a failure to clean heating equipment). Portable heaters should be switched off when leaving a room or when people are going to sleep. Always use the proper type of fuel for fuel-burning equipment, never substituting another type for the form indicated by the manufacturer. Testing smoke alarms monthly is key to preventing any type of fire from escalating and to keeping family members safe in the event of a blaze.
While consumers can take many steps to stay safe, manufacturers and sellers must be held responsible for the devices they sell. Similarly, professionals should be held accountable for installation and inspection work. If a defective heater led to a fire in your Northwest Florida home, our Panama City defective products attorney can help you recover damages from those at fault.
Stay warm and stay safe. Also, remember to check in on older neighbors and community members during cold spells to make sure they are kept safe and warm, as hypothermia is especially dangerous to seniors. Some communities offer warming centers during cold spells for those unable to afford necessary heating (for example, see the Northwest Florida Daily News report on Santa Rosa's warming centers for the homeless during cold weather from December 2013 through March 2014).