Yesterday’s house fire in Des Plaines, which led to the tragic deaths of a mother and her four daughters, appears to be linked to a space heater, ABC 7 news reports. All four girls, the oldest of whom was six, were pronounced dead at the hospital. Their mother died at the scene. The father was working at the time of the fire.
“This is a tragedy that I have not seen in my 34 years, 36 years of fire service,” Des Plaines Fire Chief Daniel Anderson said. “This is a terrible day, a tragic day for Des Plaines.”
Tragedy does not begin to describe it. Our hearts are broken, and we hope the surviving family and friends find some peace and comfort in the payers and care of the community.
Space heaters are dangerous machines
Space heaters are dangerous, deadly machines. According to Vanderbilt Health, “each year space heaters are responsible for about 55,000 fires, 450 deaths, and more than 1,500 injuries.” Per the National Fire Protection Association, “space heaters account for 43 percent of U.S. home heating fires and 85 percent of associated deaths”
While fires may be the primary cause for worry, they are not the only one. An improperly installed or defective space heater – especially one which runs on fuel and not electricity – can release carbon monoxide, leading to CO poisoning or death.
How to reduce your risks when using a space heater
We understand that for some people, not using a space heater is simply not an option. Chicago is a frigid place in the winter, and a space heater is an absolute necessity in some older, draftier buildings. To reduce your risk of burn injuries, smoke or CO inhalation, or a house fire, consider these tips:
- Keep space heaters on the ground and away from rugs or blankets.
- Make sure there is plenty of room around the space heater, so that it’s not pressed up against anything flammable (like furniture or walls).
- Plug space heaters directly into an outlet, not a power strip or surge protector.
- Keep small children and pets away from space heaters.
- Make sure your space heater is attended at all times and turn it off before you go to sleep. (If it comes with a timer, use it to ensure it doesn’t run overnight.)
- Lay the cord out flat and allow it to be visible, as bends can ruin the integrity of the cord and its electrical components – and hidden cords can cause trips and falls.
- When you purchase your space heater, buy it new. It should be covered under a factory warranty that way in case it doesn’t work, and you can feel safe knowing that it has no history of sparks, short circuits, or other issues.
- Keep space heaters away from water, including steam and condensation.
Finally – and perhaps most importantly – purchase a smoke detector and a CO detector. Smoke rises, so smoke alarms should be installed on the ceiling or within 12” of the ceiling. Carbon monoxide detectors should be installed about 5’ above the floor.