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Stay safe with heat sources this winter

January 4, 2019 GMT

In November there was a fire that consumed a whole house on Colina Drive.

Although there isn’t a solid source for the fire, the origin was the living room, Montrose Fire Protection District Fire Marshal Mark Bray said. In the living room was a wood stove.

As the weather continues to get colder, many residents turn to space heaters, wood stoves and, of course, furnaces, to heat their home. While most heaters, stoves and furnaces are built safely today, users should still follow certain precautions. Bray, who is also the fire prevention specialist, broke down the safety precautions for each.

Space heaters:

With space heaters, Bray explained the device should be UL, or Underwriters Laboratories, listed. Looking at the space heater, or anything that plugs into an outlet, there should be a circle with “UL” scribed inside. This means it has been tested in a laboratory tested.

Space heaters tend to pull a lot of energy, Bray said, adding where you plug it in matters.

“You don’t want to plug in space heaters into a power strip, you want to power those directly from a wall,” Bray said. “... A lot of times the power strip isn’t rated for the amount of power that the space heater will pull… If that power strip isn’t rated for that amount of energy coming through, the power strip will actually melt down and catch fire.”

When leaving the home, it is best to turn off and unplug the device, just to be safe. Bray emphasized reading the instruction manual and looking out for clearances and adhering to those clearances. You don’t want a space heater up against the wall or next to anything combustible.

Bray said the problem he’s personally seen with space heaters is when they fall over. He explained you want to look to make sure the heater has a anti-tip switch — if they tip over, they will shut off. This is particularly important when pets are around.

“If they don’t have the tip-switch in it, then what happens is it continues to heat and ignites on whatever it falls over on, whether it be the carpet, vinyl, clothes, whatever it happened to be,” Bray said.

Wood stove

When it comes to wood stove and fireplace safety, it starts with burning the right type of wood, Bray said. Picking the correct type of wood includes: avoiding anything with a lot of sap, choosing cured wood and not gusing wet wood.

Cleaning the stove pipe is also important at least once a year if not twice. Bray said it is recommended that a professional come in to do that.

Screens on fireplaces are also recommended so embers do not come out while a fire is going.

“When stoking a wood stove or fireplace, making sure you’re looking for any errant sparks that may have popped out,” Bray said.

Clearances for fireplaces and wood stoves are manufacturer-dependent. But there still should be no combustibles around them.

When cleaning out ash from a unit, it is important to put it in a metal container, stored away from the house and not on a deck or porch. Ashes should be cold before they are thrown away or they could catch fire, Bray said.


Bray said furnaces are not as bad as wood stoves, but the biggest problem he sees is people storing items around it.

Similar to the other heat sources, it is important not to store combustibles around the unit.

“Non-sealed combustion type furnaces- those are your older furnaces- those can tend to send flames out the vent hole sometimes on occasion and I don’t know what causes that — I’ve just heard of that happening,” Bray said, adding he’s never personally seen that happen. “So we just say 3 feet clearance around the sides and front of furnaces unless the manufacturer says something different.”

Avoiding placing items around the furnace is particularly important when the unit is in a small closet. In mobile homes, they can have a closer clearance and they tend to be found in a closet. Bray suggests not storing anything in that closet when the furnace is there.

He also suggests these units get serviced at least once a year.

Monica Garcia is the news editor at the Montrose Daily Press.