Clothing placed near wall heating unit causes fire at West Street duplex

COVINGTON - Covington firefighters were called to their first structure fire of the new year at a West Street duplex Wednesday afternoon.

The cause: clothing placed too near to a wall heating unit, according to Covington Fire Department Capt. Rob Christopher.

The fire spread from a rear bedroom to the attic of the residence at 3209 West St., causing an estimated $60,000 in damage, Christopher said.

Firefighters spent about 15 minutes trying to contain the blaze, he said.

"Wind conditions hampered operations out there," he noted.

Though two residents were home when the fire broke out, no one was injured, Christopher said.

The incident drives home the importance of heating safety during the coldest months of the year, when instances of home heating fires rise.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, heating equipment is a leading cause of home fires, and nearly half of all home fires occur in December, January and February.

In 2005, heating equipment was involved in an estimated 62,200 reported home structure fires, 670 civilian deaths, 1,550 civilian injuries and $909 million in direct property damage, the NFPA reports.

Fires involving space heaters were the most deadly. While space heaters were involved in only one-third of heating fires, they accounted for three-fourths of the deaths, according to NFPA.

"When you're dealing with space heaters or heaters of that type, you need to keep all things that can burn at least 3 feet away from all heating sources," Christopher said. "When you leave your residence, make sure you turn heating devices off."

Portable heaters should be plugged directly into the wall and not connected through an extension cord, he added.

"Heating systems are our No. 1 cause of fires during these cold temperatures," Newton County Fire Chief Mike Satterfield said.

The main culprit: space heaters.

"I know we keep harping on that, and we sound kind of like a broken record, but it keeps happening," he said.

Combustibles that should be kept away from heaters include clothing, upholstery, drapery and bedding, he said.

Satterfield particularly cautioned those with space heaters that have thermostats that automatically shut off when temperatures climb.

"People forget they're actually turned on because they're not seeing it on, and they move it over to the side, out of the way, sometimes up against a waste basket or curtains or drapery. At night, the colder temperatures come back, and it cuts back on. The safe thing is, when you're through using it, unplug it," he said.

Fireplaces can also pose safety hazards.

"The colder it gets, the more wood people want to put in them to get a bigger and bigger fire. You have to be careful and not overload those fireplaces. If you don't have a good screen, embers can pop out onto the flooring," Satterfield said. Christopher said it's also important to make sure fireplaces are properly installed and serviced.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.

SideBar: At a glance

Heating safety tips:

' Space heaters need space. Keep all things that can burn, such as paper, bedding or furniture, at least 3 feet away from heating equipment.

' Turn portable heaters off when you go to bed or leave the room.

' Plug power cords only into outlets with sufficient capacity and never into an extension cord.

' Inspect for cracked, frayed or broken plugs or loose connections. Replace before using.

' Have your chimney inspected each year and cleaned if necessary.

' Use a sturdy fireplace screen.

' Allow ashes to cool before disposing. Dispose of ashes in a metal container.

' Install smoke alarms in every bedroom, outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home. For the best protection, interconnect all smoke alarms throughout the home. When one sounds, they all sound. Test smoke alarms at least once a month.

' Install and maintain a carbon monoxide alarm in a central location outside each sleeping area.

' Never use an oven to heat your home.

Source: National Fire Protection Association