With the hit of wintry weather this week, state fire safety officials are warning Iowans to be careful when using space heaters. Jim Saunders, a spokesman for the Iowa Department of Public Safety, says last winter there were at least 51 deaths nationwide from fires that were started by heaters and fireplaces.Saunders says people often use space heaters or a fireplace to try to heat their home so they don’t use so much of the more expensive natural gas, propane, heating oil or electricity that runs their furnace. If you intend to do that, Saunders says you should use an updated space heater as older models don’t have up-to-date safety features, like an automatic shut-off switch if the heater tips over.He says you should only place space heaters on level, hard surfaces, and should keep ’em away from flammable items, like newspapers or curtains. As for fireplaces, Saunders says you need to have the chimneys inspected. If you’re using wood in your fireplace, make sure there’s a screen in front to ensure sparks don’t fly out of the firebox and set your carpeting on fire. This past week, investigators determined that a fire at an apartment complex in Des Moines was started by kids playing with a torch. Saunders says parents need to talk to their kids about the danger of fire. Saunders says “a fair number of fires” are started by children. He advises parents to put matches out of their kids’ reach to ensure curiosity about fire doesn’t get the best of ’em and leads to a fire that hurts or kills someone. Seventy percent of all fire deaths in homes occur in houses that do not have a working smoke alarm.
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