When Temperatures Drop, Home Fires Rise - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

Published on January 23, 2015

When Temperatures Drop, Home Fires Rise

Crozer-Keystone Health SystemMedia Contact:
Katrina Stier
(610) 447-6314

More house fires tend to occur when the temperature drops to frigid levels.

More house fires occur when the weather
becomes severely cold.

When the mercury starts dropping rapidly, people fear hypothermia, frostbite and slipping on ice. But they don’t typically associate severely cold temperatures with an increase in house fires. But, in fact, more house fires tend to occur when the temperature drops to frigid levels.

That’s because people tend to use whatever sources they have available to get and stay warm.

“(An increase in house fires) has to do with the fact that people are using their heating processes to the maximum,” said Mary Lou Patton, M.D., the Medical Director of the Nathan Speare Regional Burn Treatment Center at Crozer-Chester Medical Center.

Some of these sources may not be intended to be used to heat a home, may need repair or they may just not be used properly.

When it comes to fireplaces and heating units, they need to be professionally checked every year, ideally before the cold strikes. The key here is having a professional do the maintenance.

“One thing I see a lot of is someone trying to do a repair on their heater system and they don’t have the experience to be dealing with it,” Dr. Patton said. Trying to do a repair to your heating system yourself can lead to explosions, which can cause flash burns to the face, she said.

“And if they don’t have a fire extinguisher readily available to put the fire out, they can end up with a more serious fire and a more extensive injury,” she explained.

Even when running properly, heaters need their space. Anything that can burn, including paper, fabric, furniture, people and pets should stay at least 3 feet away from fireplaces, stoves and space heaters.

The same goes for portable space heaters; they need to be placed on hard, level and nonflammable surfaces. They should never be placed on rugs or carpets, near bedding and drapes. Models that automatically shut off if the unit tips over are the best ones to use.

None of these heating tools should be used to dry wet clothes. And they should never be left unattended. Make sure fireplaces, wood-burning stoves and portable heaters get turned off before leaving the house or going to bed.

“I see a lot of injuries with people having space heaters. At night, someone can fall out of bed onto the space heater and get burned,” Dr. Patton said.

These heat sources are perfectly safe to heat your room, but only when used properly and when they’re maintained. When safety precautions aren’t followed, a fire can strike.

When it comes to the kitchen, Dr. Patton cautioned to never use the stove or oven to heat your home.

Another way to avoid house fires this season: smoke detectors.

“Make sure there are smoke detectors that are functioning properly throughout your house. A lot of injuries and house fires occur because people haven’t updated their smoke detectors or they don’t have them at all,” Dr. Patton said.

In order to avoid injuries if a fire does occur in your home, you should have a plan.

“Have an escape plan with the whole family, especially with children, older adults and people with disabilities that are being cared for,” she advised. And, if you have pets, include how they will get out of the house in the plan as well. Some of the house fire-related injuries that Dr. Patton sees are the result of people escaping the fire, but then running back into the house to help family members or to retrieve personal items.

“They run back in because they’re in a state of anxiety and don’t think about the potential consequences,” she said.

Having an escape plan that ensures everyone and every pet can get out of the house safely and quickly will also eliminate the urge to run back into the blaze.

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