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Virginia firefighter breaks down space heater do's and don'ts as cold weather moves in

Fire Marshal: 'They’ll place them right up to their bed, next to the sofa, around blankets... They should be at least 3 feet away from anything combustible.'
Posted at 9:42 PM, Nov 01, 2023

COLONIAL HEIGHTS, Va. — As cold temperatures move into Central Virginia, many folks will be pulling out their space heaters and electric blankets. Others will be lighting their wood stove or or starting a fire in their fireplace for the first time this season.

But all to often, cold weather also brings a rash of fires, according to firefighters.

“They don’t think of any of the consequences behind using [space heaters] on a daily basis,” Colonial Heights Deputy Fire Marshal Brett Jennings told CBS 6 senior reporter Wayne Covil.

For people who have a wood stove or burn wood in their fireplace, Jennings recommends having a "company come out and clean your chimney to get the creosote buildup that is in those chimneys out."

Colonial Heights Deputy Fire Marshal Brett Jennings
Colonial Heights Deputy Fire Marshal Brett Jennings

If you like a space heater to take the chill off, there is a lot to remember, including where to place it.

“They’ll place them right up to their bed, next to the sofa, around blankets, that’s not the best place to place them," Jennings said. "They should be at least 3 feet away from anything combustible.”

Jennings illustrated an example with a space heater in a living room.

“Obviously you have a big rug in this room, you have furniture, you got play toys in this type of room. It wouldn’t hurt to have it over here on the hard floor," he said.

Extension cords are a big no for space heaters. When it comes to electric blankets or heating pads, it is also important to be mindful of the cords.

“The cords may be running down through furniture," Jennings demonstrated. "When it’s in use, yes it’s safe to be plugged in. But when you’re not using it, make sure you unplug it.”

Donald Rackley with Thacker’s Ace Hardware
Donald Rackley with Thacker’s Ace Hardware

Jennings said every home should have at least one fire extinguisher to protect yourself and your family. If you already have one, you may not realize that fire extinguishers have expiration dates.

“If it’s old, replace it," Donald Rackley with Thacker’s Ace Hardware advised.. "We don’t want to find out it’s not working when we’re in need of putting out the fire.”

They are simple to use.

“These you pull a pin, these you just simply pull the cap off, point and spray," Rackley said.

If you feel a cold draft around doors and windows, you can add insulation or draft dodgers.

“We have some spray foams that run between $6 to $12, so fairly inexpensive to keep your house easily insulated,” Rackley said.

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But Jennings said having a working smoke detector may be the most important tip for anytime of the year.

“This weekend is the time we adjust our clocks and it’s always a good time to change out your batteries in all your smoke detectors in your house.”

If you do not have a smoke detector or yours is not working, all the fire department where you live and request one.

Not only is the smoke detector free of charge in most cases, but the fire department will come out and install it it for you.

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