The extreme cold is relenting, slightly, and Iowans are hearing renewed warnings about the dangers of using alternative sources to heat their homes. A housefire Monday in southwest Iowa near Atlantic is blamed on a space heater. While no one was hurt, the home was gutted.

Liz Dorland, spokeswoman for the American Red Cross office in Omaha-Council Bluffs, says space heaters need to be placed on a hard surface. “At least three feet away from any flammable object,” Dorland says. “That might be your couch, a pile of laundry on the floor, curtains, any chair, anything that might be flammable.”

Dorland says her Red Cross chapter responded to more than 60 house fires in December alone. Many of those fires were caused by people using — or misusing — alternative heat sources. Thousands of Iowans lost power in the past few days in the extreme cold. In that situation, don’t panic and make a snap decision about staying warm that could lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.  “If you should lose power, don’t use a generator inside your home to heat your home,” Dorland says. “Use a generator very cautiously, and that goes for stoves, gas grills or anything of that sort. Don’t bring them inside to try and stay warm.”

Also, don’t try to heat your home using an oven or stovetop. If your water pipes freeze, don’t try and tackle the problem yourself, call a plumber. Another housefire in Independence in recent days was the result of a desperate do-it-yourselfer making an error in judgment.  “Somebody had been using a propane torch to heat their frozen water pipes,” Dorland says. “Obviously, do not use any sort of a propane torch or blow torch to heat your pipes if they should become frozen.”

For Iowans who are concerned about a potential pipe freeze, she offers a few suggestions. “Run the water, even at a trickle, to help prevent them from freezing,” Dorland says. “Open up those kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors that are underneath to allow the warm air to circulate around that plumbing.” A heat lamp could also be used if the pipes are in a concentrated space. Another option is electrically-powered heat tape.