Parkland burn center experts urge caution when using space heaters

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Parkland burn center experts urge caution when using space heaters

Thu Jan 18, 2018 at 08:08 AM


Jan. 17, 2018


April Foran


Give them their space!

Parkland burn center experts urge caution when using space heaters

DALLAS – The bitter cold that has plunged much of the nation and the Metroplex into a deep freeze recently has left people turning to whatever means necessary to warm the winter’s chill. Sadly, across the country there have been numerous reports of deaths from hypothermia and fires that ignited from space heaters.

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), when examining all the heating equipment-related fires that occur in winter, those started by space heaters are most likely to result in death. The bottom line, the agency notes, is space heaters need space.

“Every year during the winter months, we admit patients with burn injuries from house fires that started from portable heaters. Some of the injuries result from people trapped in a house fire that started from a space heater placed too close to flammable materials such as curtains or blankets,” said Stephanie Campbell, BSN, RN, CCRN, Burn Program Manager in Parkland Memorial Hospital’s Regional Burn Center.

Space heaters cause about one-third of all winter house fires and 80 percent of all winter heating fire deaths, the NFPA reported. Placing items that can burn too close to heating equipment or placing heating equipment too close to items that can burn, such as upholstered furniture, clothing, mattresses or bedding, was the leading factor contributing to ignition in fatal home heating fires. These accounted for more than half, or 56 percent, of home heating fire deaths, according to the NFPA. Of those, nearly half, or 49 percent, occurred in December, January and February.

“People with diabetic neuropathy are at particularly high risk since they may use a heater to warm their feet, but may not be able to feel when a burn begins to occur,” Campbell said. “Direct contact with a space heater may also result in burn injuries when the clothing ignites. We have several cases a year where people did not realize they were bumping up against a heater until their clothing was on fire.”

Campbell offers the following tips when using a space heater:

Keep a 3-foot zone around a portable heater that is free of anything that can burn (clothing, curtains, furniture, bedding, etc.)

Keep portable heaters out of reach of young children and teach older children to stay out of a 3-foot zone around the heater

Buy a portable heater with an anti-tip shut-off feature and place on a level surface

Turn off electric heaters when you leave the room

Do not use extension cords with electric heaters

Do not place in areas that can get wet

Do not use portable heaters while sleeping

Ensure there are working smoke detectors in the home or apartment

Smoke detectors should be tested at least once a month and batteries should be replaced at least twice a year

Campbell noted that when people start fires in fireplaces they make sure to extinguish them before they go to sleep because they can see the flames. Because space heaters lack visible signs of flames, they may be overlooked when turning in for the night and therefore a slow burn may fill the home with smoke.

“It’s when people are asleep that they are most vulnerable,” Campbell said, adding. “You’d never consider putting clothes in a fireplace, but unfortunately leaving clothes or other flammable items on top of or near a space heater is all too common.”

For information on how to reduce your risk of winter fires and other hazards, visit the National Fire Protection Association at For information about Parkland services, please visit