Avoid house fires as cold weather hits

By Jimmy Alford | Published Saturday, November 23, 2013

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Recent house fires have prompted warnings from the Wise County fire marshal’s office to take care while using space heaters and extension cords.

Damage Done

DAMAGE DONE – Rhome firefighters mop up a house fire earlier this month in Rhome. The blaze was caused by an extension cord and space heater. Messenger photo by Brian Knox

Deputy Fire Marshal J.C. Travis said fires that damaged or destroyed three houses in November were attributed to electrical issues.

“One of the fires was started by a space heater connected to an extension cord,” Travis said. “Space heaters are not designed to be on cords. They draw a lot of amperage and that causes the extension cords to overheat.”


Having too many amps surging through extension cords is a serious concern, especially during the holiday season.

“You should always use a properly UL-rated cord that is also heavy-duty,” Travis said.

He said check the amount of amps for which the cord is rated and compare that with the total number of amps needed for application.

If a person wants to string together three, 8-amp strands of Christmas lights, they would need an extension cord rated for a minimum 24-amp load.

“Also, if you’re going to have Christmas lights, turn them off when you go to bed,” Travis said.

Extension cords buried beneath clothes has also been a problem. Clothes, paper or other objects can act as extra insulation, trapping heat. The heat builds until the cord fails and catches fire.

According to the National Fire Incident Reporting System, the threat of winter heating fires is real, causing more than $2 billion dollars in damage annually in the United States and hundreds of deaths.

Of all the home heating-related fires nationally, a third are directly linked to space heaters.

“Keep 36 inches of clear space around these heaters,” Travis said. “Definitely have nothing combustible near.”

Making sure space heaters have tipping sensors is important. If the heater is turned over, it will shut itself off, and hopefully not start a blaze.


“In all the local fires, residents were alerted by hearing the smoke detectors,” Travis said. “They do work.”

Here are some basic safety tips to stay safe in case of fire:

  • install smoke alarms according to current recommendations;
  • test smoke alarms every month;
  • prepare a fire escape plan;
  • have two ways out of each room;
  • practice your fire escape plan with fire drills;
  • make sure cords have good ventilation; and
  • never use damaged extension cords, including those that are frayed, cracked or pinched.

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