Space heater safety is crucial as temperatures plummet this winter

A space heater sparked the inferno that killed 17 people, including eight children, in the Bronx over the weekend.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2022
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Kemberly Richardson has more on space heater safety this winter.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- The tragic fires in New York City on Sunday and in Philadelphia last Wednesday underscore the importance of safety as more people look to crank up the heat in their homes.

A space heater sparked the inferno that killed 17 people, including eight children, in the Bronx.

"It started in a malfunctioning electric space heater, that was the cause of the fire," FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said.

Inside many homes in New York City, people rely on space heaters to keep warm.

Now, the FDNY is working with several agencies including the Consumer Product Safety Commission to pin point exactly went went wrong.

"Unfortunately, we do find space heaters do cause a lot of fires annually, 1,700 estimated per year and 80 deaths," Consumer Product Safety Commission Chairman Alex Hoehn-Saric said. "So the use of space heaters has to be done. People need to stay warm, but there are risks and people have to be careful as well."

The National Fire Protection Association said space heaters account for 44% of home heating-related fires and 85% of associated deaths.

MORE | National Fire Protection Association: Electric Space Heater Safety

At Union Fire Department headquarters, when it comes to space heaters, Chief Michael Scanio has advice.

"Used properly, it's one of the safest tools out there to keep warm," he said.

But he affirms that's if, and only if, users follow the rules.

Scanio says always buy a newer model, and look for a sticker indicating a UL safety rating. Also, make sure the space heater has an anti-tip feature.

"Anti tip means if your pets or children run by it and accident you knock it over, it will automatically shut off," he said.

Scanio says never plug the unit into an extension cord, but rather always use the wall outlet.

"Extension cords, some aren't rated for the amount of amps that comes with space heaters," he said. "They get hot, and if it's shoved under the couch or rug or pinched, they can overheat and start to melt away."

Experts say make sure the unit is at least 3 feet away from combustible material in all directions.

Most importantly, when you leave a room or go to sleep, turn the heater off.


  • Put your space heater is on a bare, smooth floor.
  • Do not set it on a shelf, stool or cardboard box
  • Keep off rugs and carpet
  • Never tilt your space heater
  • Never keep it in a wet location like a kitchen/bathroom unless it is designed for it
  • Manufacturers advise you to plug your space heater directly into a wall outlet instead of a surge protector or extension cord
  • Keep your space heater a few feet away from the wall where it's plugged in.

And an important reminder about smoke alarms: never take out the batteries unless you're replacing them, and never disable alarms. Alarms with built-in batteries can be permanently disabled with a tool.

"You can see it here on the back of this alarm and it has some very detailed instructions and this is only to be used at the end of an alarm's life," said Sharon Cooksey, of Kidde.

Once it's disabled, the detector will not work anymore. It must be thrown away and immediately replaced.

Also, New York City officials said the door to the fire apartment and one on the 15th floor did not shut automatically as they should have, allowing smoke to escape and billow throughout the building.


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