When it’s cold outside and growing colder, it’s human nature to seek the warmth, how ever we can obtain it. A well-maintained central heating system is one of the blessings of modern life.
However, sometimes the heating system is not so well maintained, through no fault of our own, especially if we live in a rental property. Or, the system is inadequate to the task, so we must run space heaters. Perhaps we use our stoves, fireplaces, and other sources to supplement an inadequate heating system or to save money because our funds are tight.
Faulty heating systems, space heaters, stoves, fireplaces, and other heating devices take lives and burn down homes every year. Nationally, from 2013 through 2015, an annual average of almost 46,000 house heating fires caused 205 deaths and 725 injuries. The property losses each year amounted to over half a billion dollars.
South Carolina Figures
In our state alone, from the beginning of 2017 to December 13, 2017, 80 fires have caused 95 deaths; 5 of those deaths occurred in Richland County. Nearly all the fires happened in homes—85 percent. The number of fires and deaths rose with the advent of winter: January and February of 2017 saw 13 and 9 deaths, respectively. March was the month with the highest number of deaths, at 18. One possible reason for the high figure just as spring is starting is that central heating systems may be used less often, opening the door to risks from space heaters and other temporary sources of heat.
Of those who died, 35 percent were between the ages of 50 and 69. One-fourth were 70 or older. Fire kills a lot of seniors and near-seniors. The median age when death occurred for 2017 house fires was 56.
Across our nation, home heating fires were, after cooking fires, the second most-likely cause of fire death in homes. Some other facts about heating fires include the following:
- Heating fires peaked during January; over one-fifth (21 percent) of home heating fires occurred during that month.
- So-called confined fires, or fires limited to fuel burners, flues, or chimneys, accounted for a full three-fourths of home heating fires.
- Of non-confined heating fires, 29 percent occurred because the heat source, such as a fireplace or space heater, was too close to flammable objects.
- About three out of ten home heating fires (29 percent) happened between 5 and 9 p.m.
What Causes Heating Fires?
Gas central heating system fires can be caused by gas explosions (natural gas or propane). With electrically-based systems (electric heating or heat pumps), faulty wiring or other electrical hazards can spark a fire.
According to the South Carolina Fire Marshal’s Office, the top causes of home heating fires in SC are:
- Faulty portable/space heaters
- Unattended portable/space heaters
- Fueling mistakes when using kerosene or gas-fueled heaters
- Product deficiencies in heating equipment
- Leaving flammable objects too close to space heaters, wood stoves, or fireplaces
- Not maintaining and cleaning chimneys and flues for wood stoves and fireplaces.
Negligence and Home Heating Fires
Sometimes home heating fires take place because of circumstances that are simply unfortunate. But other times, home heating fires occur because of negligence on the part of another party. Some examples of potentially negligent parties are:
- The owner of the rental property, whether it is a single family home or an apartment
- The party who built the home
- The manufacturer of the defective heating product (space heater, heating system, water heater, stove, wood stove, etc.)
- The manufacturer of the defective smoke alarm or fire alarm that failed to alert you
- The manufacturer of the flammable furniture or other household items that made the fire worse
- The electrician and the electrician’s employer, if the fire was electrically-based
- The gas or propane company, if the fire was caused by a gas explosion.
Home heating fires can be complicated. Often your best bet is to seek legal counsel when you believe that another party’s negligence caused the fire which resulted in injuries and property losses.