Avoiding fire risks with home heaters in winter


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Reported by: Ian Silver
Updated: 11/14/2012 7:02 pm Published: 11/14/2012 6:18 pm


As temperatures drop with the onset of winter, people across Green Country are starting to fire up their heaters. The problem is, those heaters cause a lot of fires.

At least eight families in the Tulsa area are homeless after two separate apartment complex fires in two days. Both fires started in or near water heaters or furnaces.

"As the weather gets colder you'll see it almost everyday," Stan May, Public Information Officer for the Tulsa Fire Department, said. "You'll have some kind of heater-related issue, whether it be carbon monoxide or a fire."

Unfortunately, winter is a very busy time for firefighters.

It's also a busy time for heater servicemen like Darrell Hilligoss of Air Solutions in Tulsa.

"We do a lot of tune-ups this time of year, checking people's furnaces, making sure they're safe," Hilligoss said.

Too often, Hilligoss sees people storing things in the same closet as their furnace or water heater. The items are usually flammable, like cardboard boxes, clothing, or Christmas decorations. But sometimes the items are far more dangerous.

"People put paint cans, or I've even seen gas cans in the furnace closet, which is a big no-no," Hilligoss said.

No-no is an understatement when you're taking about highly combustible things sitting right next to a furnace that not only gets extremely hot, but usually contains an open flame as a pilot light.

"They're designed to heat your whole house, and you're putting something that's flammable up against it," May said. "It's going to cause problems."

Even non-flammable objects can be risky to store next to a furnace or water heater.

But even if the closet is empty aside from the heater, everyone should still have their furnace inspected and serviced before turning it on.

"You can have burners that got rusted, and actually not catch on fire," Hilligoss said. "And that gas builds up in the furnace itself until it eventually lights."

At that point, the flame is no longer under control like it normally is.

"You could have a cracked heat exchanger, and the flame, what they call rollout, can actually burn the front of your furnace."

It's a technical way to say that things can change inside your furnace when you don't turn it on for many months.

And even if those problems don't cause a fire right away when you start using your heater again, that doesn't mean a fire couldn't erupt later on.

"It can catch fire the last time you use it," Hilligoss said.

Even dust build-up can cause a spark that ignites a fire.

And while many people who have electric-powered furnaces think they're safe, both May and Hilligoss say electric furnaces can catch fire just like gas furnaces do.

But a once-a-year check of your furnace from a qualified technician can greatly reduce your risk of fire.

"[We can bring the risk] way down," Hilligoss said. "We're going to check everything that could even remotely cause something like that."

Both Hilligoss and May also say every home should have working smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors, because they can often pick up on a developing problem before your home goes up in flames.


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The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of KOKI FOX23 - Tulsa

Unwashed Mass - 11/15/2012 11:39 AM
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Heaters. or furnaces?
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