In just four days PG County saw two serious house fires that came as the result of improperly used space heaters. (Courtesy Photo)

Prince Georges County Fire and Emergency Services (EMS) is urging local residents to use extreme care when operating space heaters. This was in response to two homes being gutted in space heater fires earlier this month?. The two fires displaced 11 adults and 2 children, and caused an estimated $150,000 worth of damage.

“We were fortunate no one was injured or killed during these incidents,” said Prince Goerge’s County Fire Chief Marc S. Bashoor. “Fire safety and injury prevention must not be lost in an effort to stay warm. Stay warm and do so safely. Safety First ensures everyone goes home.”

According to the United States Fire Administration, space heaters cause one-third of home heating fires and 4 out of 5 home heating fires deaths. In both cases – one in Beltsville and the other in Chapel Oaks – Bashoor said space heaters in bedrooms ignited nearby combustibles (bedding material) and spread rapidly.

Marnie Gibson, a Cheverly resident said she had a near-miss with an oscillating space heater situated too close to newspapers she stored in her basement. The space, being used as a bedroom for a nephew,

had no insulation and space heaters initially seemed like a good idea.

“It’s an old house so you think of putting the space heater somewhere that it can heat the entire room as quickly as possible, but there were stacks of newspapers that the heater almost touched each time it turned,” Gibson said. “My nephew saw the smoke and smelled the paper burning so it never got to be a full fire, but it can happen in a matter of minutes.”

Bashoor cautioned homeowners to take the time to read the manuals that come with heating units and follow the specific guidelines concerning their proximity to both their own bodies and combustible items. The fires that damaged those homes were preventable and had they not occurred during the early afternoon, could have caused loss of life, he said.

“Each season, home fires increase in part due to cooking and heating fires,” Bashoor said.

Additional space heater safety tips from PG County EMS include:

  • Buy only heaters evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
  • Check to make sure the space heater has a thermostat control mechanism, and will switch off automatically if the heater falls over or if placed too close to an object.
  • Heaters are not dryers or tables; don’t dry clothes or store objects on top of heaters.
    Space heaters need space, keep combustibles at least three feet away from each heater.
  • Always unplug electric space heaters when not in use; turn them off at night or whenever residents are asleep.
  • Never use an extension cord with space heaters – plug directly into wall socket.

Additionally, Bashoor said that working carbon monoxide detectors should be used in the home to protect families from deadly “silent killer” fumes that may be building.

For additional information on winter fire safety, visit.usfire.gov. Residents are encouraged to utilize the Prince George’s County’s County 311 system to obtain information about public services, including getting a smoke alarm installed in the home.