Space heater use tied to deadly fires

Firefighters on the scene of a fire in Lowell Township that left two people dead. (Feb. 11, 2014)
Firefighters on the scene of a fire in Lowell Township that left two people dead. (Feb. 11, 2014)

KENTWOOD, Mich. (WOOD) — The fire that killed 81-year-old Wanda Cooper in her Orangeville Township home early Thursday was likely caused by a space heater used to thaw frozen pipes, according to investigators.

And while the blaze that killed two Lowell Township brothers after their home caught fire Tuesday left too much damage to determine a cause, the brothers had been warned in the past about their dangerous use of space heater.

And last week, four people were killed in a Berrien County fire. While there’s no firm cause yet, investigators are looking into the possibility that alternative heat sources were in use.

State fire marshal investigators said in just a week and a half, they’ve investigated as many as five serious fires in West Michigan.

The use of an alternative heat source is a common thread in all of them – including three involving fatalities.

But there are ways to use the heaters and prevent tragedy.

“The units themselves should have a good testing company like this one — happens to be UL,” said Kentwood Deputy Fire Chief Gregg Ginebaugh.

The National Fire Protection Association shows the problem is nationwide.

NFPA figures show that from 2007 to 2011, 81 percent of fatal home fires related to heating sources involved space heaters.

“Improper use seems to be the biggest culprit that we see,” Ginebaugh said.

In over half of those fatal fires involving space heaters, the heaters were left too close to things that burn.

“Where we find problems is when a user had it too close to clothing hampers, putting it in a closet or it gets knocked over,” Ginebaugh said.

Along with making sure the units are Underwriter-approved and away from combustibles, Ginebaugh said to make sure the electrical units are plugged into a wall socket.

“A power strip may sound like a good idea, but that’s just an extension cord making your electric run longer, and you get more resistance…  creates more heat,” Ginebaugh said.

And that creates a larger potential for a fire.

 

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