MOSES LAKE — If you are one of those people who doesn’t believe it when you are told portable (space) heaters can be dangerous, consider that this winter the City of Moses Lake Fire Department has responded to at least three fires that started with a space heater.
According to Derek Beach, fire marshal with the department, it’s OK to use space heaters, but people who used them need to know which is or is not a proper use.
In all cases, Beach said, it’s the power demands of the heater that present the danger. When a space heater is used or connected in an inappropriate way, the power demand goes up, the chord can overheat and ignite nearby combustibles.
“If you connect the heater directly into an outlet, that is the safest,” Beach said. “But if you need to use an extension cord, make sure it’s big enough (capacity) to safely carry the power the heater will need.”
When the extension cord is not big enough to carry the power demand, the cord and plug can overheat and start a fire.
Even when you use a space heater correctly, there remains a degree danger, Beach said. You need to maintain clear an area of at least 3 feet around the heater. The heater can ignite curtains, blankets, beds, clothing or furniture that is close by and start a fire that way. Never leave a space heater operating while unattended, or while you are sleeping. Ceramic type heaters, while safer than older types, can still pose fire dangers.
If you are planning to buy a space heater, Beach said, buy a new one and make sure it has UL certification. That means it’s been tested.
Also, determine how much space a heater is designed to warm. It needs to be big enough for the space you want to warm.
Beach said it generally takes 10 watts of power to warm 1 square foot of space. A bedroom, or whatever room that measures 12 by 12 will require a heater of 1,440 watts or more.
“If the room doesn’t warm to a temperature at which the heater will stop automatically, it will not cool and neither will the cord, as they should from time to time,” Beach said. “A heater that won’t shut off creates a big demand for power.”
Beach said it is also dangerous to use your kitchen oven to warm the house. You can set it for 350 degrees and, if the door is open, it won’t reach that temperature.
“That causes a big demand for power which can cause the connection to ignite and start a fire,” Beach said. “The oven was not designed for this use.”
Also dangerous are gas or kerosene heaters, Beach said. These produce carbon monoxide, which is dangerous. They also deplete the oxygen in the air, and that’s dangerous.
If you have a fireplace, Beach said, assure yourself that the chimney is clean before starting a fire, and keep it clean. Dry wood is the safest, he said.
It is important to have working smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors on every level in the home. They need to be tested monthly and batteries changed yearly. Smoke detectors need to be replaced every 10 years.
Beach noted that he and the department are working on some new fire prevention programs. This will be more for middle and high school students, adults and senior citizens. There is a program for elementary students.
Individuals or groups who would like to learn more about fire prevention may call Beach at 509-765-2204.
To date, fires caused by space heaters have not harmed anyone, and Beach would like to see things remain that way the rest of this winter.