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CFD: Fires, deaths caused by portable heaters highlight dangers of improper use

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Posted at 5:35 PM, Mar 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-11 17:35:33-05

CLEVELAND — Cleveland fire officials are sounding the alarm after three incidents this week — two of which were fatal — were caused by portable heaters.

On Tuesday, fire investigators said a space heater plugged into an extension cord caused a fire that left a one-month-old girl and a 1-year-old boy dead. Lt. Mike Norman said it appeared that the home had “a number of extension cords with heat-producing appliances” like space heaters plugged into them. However, Lt. Norman said it was difficult to say whether the space heater was too close to combustibles.

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Two days later, officials said a 72-year-old man died after suffering carbon monoxide poisoning inside his home on the east side. Three others were hospitalized. Officials traced the carbon monoxide to a propane heater that was not properly vented.

Then, on Friday morning, a fire at a home in the 4000 block of East 56th Street broke out. Luckily, all five occupants were able to exit the home safely. Investigators said the fire was caused by a space heater.

“It was a tragic week for us,” Lt. Norman said. “Space heaters can be dangerous. They are safe but you need to use some precautions with them.”

Commonly used in the winter months, space heaters can present multiple hazards when in an enclosed space, especially when combustibles like clothing or drapery are within three feet of one.

In addition to a three-foot buffer, Lt. Norman said space heaters should never be connected to an extension cord or power strip because they often draw too much electricity.

“You don’t want to plug any heat-producing appliance into an extension cord, whether it is a coffee maker, your refrigerator, your microwave, any of those things,” Lt. Norman said. “Those can go directly into the wall. Anything that burns fuel, can and will produce carbon monoxide and can be a source for a carbon monoxide emergency. Your hot water tanks and your furnaces especially, you want to make sure they are vented to the outside.”

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The trio of tragedies comes as the nation gets ready to ‘spring forward’ this weekend. The twice-a-year clock change is a perfect time to ensure that your smoke alarms are functioning properly.

“Smoke alarms will save lives but only working smoke alarms save lives. As we change the clocks, we want to make sure people change their clocks and change their batteries. Make sure the battery is working in your smoke alarm and test them to make sure they are functioning,” Lt. Norman said. “If residents need smoke alarms, there is a program that is a partnership called Operation Save A Life. It’s a partnership with the American Red Cross. They provide 10-year smoke alarms free of charge and they are installed by Cleveland firefighters. You want to call 216 361 5535. You will go through the process of filling out the form and firefighters will come out and install the smoke alarm for you. It’s a great program and it has saved a lot of lives in the city of Cleveland.”

At 6 p.m. on Saturday, Cleveland fire stations will sound their exterior sirens for 60 seconds to remind people to change their clocks and change the batteries in their smoke detectors. If residents are in need of batteries, Cleveland fire stations will have a limited number of them available. They will be limited to two per household.