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| Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

With Hampton Roads Virginia (VA) locked in a deep freeze since Christmas, each day has brought the threat of house fires caused by portable heating devices.

This threat became an unfortunately reality on the morning of Jan. 4 for three people sharing a Virginia Beach house. The electric space heater the group was using to warm their home ignited nearby flammable materials, according to the Virginian-Pilot. No one was injured, and the house was not burned down. Still, the incident highlighted the risks of electric space heaters.

A report from Harvard University’s Environmental Health and Safety Operations Services Group notes that the "U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that more than 25,000 residential fires every year are associated with the use of space heaters, causing more than 300 deaths." In light of these statistics, the CPSC offers these tips for preventing fires caused by space heaters:

  • Look for one that is listed with a nationally-recognized testing laboratory. These heaters have been tested to meet specific safety standards, and manufacturers are required to provide important use and care information to the consumer.
  • Purchase a heater with a guard around the heating element.
  • Before using the heater, read and follow the instructions for its operation and maintenance.
  • Do not use an electric heater as a dryer by placing clothing over it and never use it heater to thaw pipes.
  • Keep the heater in safe working condition Replace missing guards and controls at once. Never operate a defective heater.
  • Don’t place the heater where children might play near it or where people might trip over or bump into it.
  • Place the heater on a level surface for stability.
  • Do not leave the heater operating unattended or operating while sleeping.
  • If you must use an extension cord, make sure it is a heavy duty cord marked with a # 14 gauge or larger wire An incorrectly-sized cord may create a fire hazard. If the heater’s plug has a grounding prong, use only a grounding (three-wire) extension cord.
  • Never run the heater’s cord (or any cord) under rugs or carpeting.

About the Editors: The Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, whose attorneys work out of offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard, and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.


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