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Tragic Accidental Deaths of Two Homeless Men Highlight Importance of Furnace/Space Heater Safety

Grewal Law PLLC

After reading the tragic story of two homeless men who died in a fire on Saturday, I was reminded of the importance of getting furnaces ready for winter as well as space heater safety. The two men were sleeping in a tent in a wooded area near Kalamazoo and Clippert Streets, and although no definitive cause of the accident has been identified, a witness sleeping in a tent nearby stated that the two men were burning wood in a cast-iron stove for warmth. Tragically, one man died at the scene and the other died later at the hospital.

While most of us won’t be using a cast-iron stove to heat our homes this winter, many of us will use a furnace as well as space heaters. The U.S. Fire Administration (.pdf) recommends that every home owner follow this advice in preparing their furnace for the winter:

  • Be sure all furnace controls and emergency shutoffs are in proper working condition.
  • Leave furnace repairs to qualified specialists. Do not attempt repairs yourself unless you are qualified.
  • Inspect the walls and ceiling near the furnace and along the chimney line. If the wall is hot or discolored, additional pipe insulation or clearance may be required.
  • Check the flue pipe and pipe seams. Are they well supported, free of holes, and cracks? Soot along or around seams may be an indicator of a leak.
  • Is the chimney solid, with cracks or loose bricks? All unused flue openings should be sealed with solid masonry.
  • Keep trash and other combustibles away from the heating system.

In addition, if you like to use a space heater for those darker and damper areas of your home, like the basement, the U.S. Fire Administration also recommends the following:

  • Be sure to have fixed space heaters installed by a qualified technician, according to manufacturer’s instructions or applicable codes. Or, make sure a qualified technician checks to see the unit has been properly installed.
  • When buying a new, portable space heater, make sure it has the label showing it is listed by a recognized testing laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
  • Space heaters should be turned off every time you leave the room and before going to bed.
  • Keep space heaters at least 3 feet away from anything that can burn – including furniture, blankets, curtains, and paper products.
  • Choose space heaters that turn off automatically if they tip over.
  • Never use a space heater to dry clothing.

 Please remember to put safety first when trying to keep warm this winter.


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