Methodist Healthcare - December 10, 2020

Rocking chair near the fireplace

Keeping warm during the winter months can be challenging, particularly as cooler temperatures make way to South Texas. While portable space heaters and other devices can help generate heat, Methodist Hospital is reminding the community that they do present potential fire and health hazards and must be used with caution.

Heating accidents happen, but with a little extra preparation and caution, a safer winter is possible. Dr. Chandra Ellis, medical director with the Burn and Reconstructive Centers of America at Methodist Hospital, says she sees burns every winter from some sort of heating equipment malfunction or misuse. Dr. Ellis encourages everyone to use extra caution this winter to stay safe indoors.

"Whether you're just turning on your heating unit or lighting your fireplaces or you've been using them frequently over the last few weeks, I highly recommend having them professionally inspected," said Dr. Ellis. "Potential hazards like dust buildup and gas leaks can be hard to detect. Having your air vents, heating units, fireplaces, chimneys, and natural gas connections professionally cleaned or inspected can give you peace of mind."

December, January, and February are the peak months for heating fires, which are the second leading cause of home fires, deaths, and injuries in the country, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Though not all burn or fire incidents can be avoided, some simple ways to reduce heating hazards include establishing a three-foot zone around heating equipment that is free of any flammable or combustible materials and never leaving fires or heaters unattended. This helps prevent unwelcome incidents and ensures, if one happens, that you can act quickly.

"With cords on the floor or open flames, accidents are bound to happen. Create a three-foot zone around heaters, fireplaces, fire pits, and candles that is free of children, flammable materials and decorations," Dr. Ellis said. "Remember, it doesn’t always take direct contact with a heater or flame for something like loose fitting clothes or other materials to catch fire."

Space heaters or portable heaters are exceedingly dangerous and have the potential to overheat, catch nearby things on fire, burn people on contact, and tip over.

"Space heater injuries happen almost like clockwork, every time the weather changes. It doesn’t matter whether they're being used in homes or in offices, they have the potential to seriously injure someone," she said. "If you're using one this winter, make sure you understand the risks associated with them and be prepared to take the necessary precautions to reduce the risk of injury or fire."

When using portable heaters, make sure the electrical cord is not damaged or obstructing walkways. Ensure the units are directly plugged into wall outlets and are not used with extension cords or power strips. It's also important to never plug anything else into the same wall outlet as the one occupied by the space heater.

Additional Safety Precautions to Consider:

  • Never leave a fire, space heater or other heating source unattended.
  • Do not overload the fireplace or wood-burning stove.
  • Don’t use an accelerant to start a fire in a fireplace or wood-burning stove.
  • Use a screen to control sparks from the fireplace.
  • Make sure ashes and other debris from fireplaces and wood-burning stoves are safely disposed of far from buildings.
  • Use flashlights – not candles – for emergency lighting if the power goes out.
  • Always make sure fire and carbon monoxide detectors are working.
  • Make sure a fire extinguisher is available.

In collaboration with Burn and Reconstructive Centers of America, Methodist Hospital is certified and equipped to treat all burn types for both adult and pediatric patients. Learn more about the Burn Center and conditions and treatments