With cold, a danger from heat


University of Florida freshmen Ornella Jouven, 19, of Marseille, France, left, and Tiffany Chudy, 18, right, of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., ride atop a scooter on the UF campus Tuesday, January 18, 2005. Jouven and Chudy, both members of the UF Women's Golf Team, were heading to the Gator Corner Dining Center for lunch. Jouven said that the weather in her native France is about the same, but can't believe that people dress like it's summer here.

DOUG FINGER/ The Gainesville Sun
Published: Wednesday, January 19, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 19, 2005 at 12:27 a.m.
Floridians without central heat have found themselves plugging in space heaters and even appliances to ward off shivers from this week's freezing temperatures.
But residents can find the warmth comes with a price if they're not careful, firefighters warn.
One man was rushed to the burn unit at Shands at the University of Florida after a Monday night fire at his Gainesville home. He was listed in critical condition Tuesday with burns including inhalation burns to his lungs caused by the fire's intense heat. Fire investigators reported that a cotton mop head, which fell on a hot plate being used as a heater at the home, started the blaze.
Firefighters worry the return to colder temperatures may mean more fires like the one in southeast Gainesville.
When cooler temperatures first hit last year, Alachua County firefighters were called to about five home fires attributed to heating equipment, said Mark Hughes with Alachua County Fire Rescue. Hughes said he hopes residents have since checked their heating equipment - from furnaces to space heaters. But, with this month's sudden cold after an unseasonable warm spell, there's a chance people won't take precautions.
The lowest temperatures reported in the state Tuesday were the 29 degrees listed in Crestview in the Panhandle and Cross City in Dixie County.
An arctic blast that has blanketed the eastern half of the U.S. should begin to lift today with lows rising from the low to mid-20s to the low to mid-30s, said Matt Zibura, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Jacksonville.
Warmer weather is expected Thursday and Friday with highs in the 60s.
But Zibura said residents aren't likely to see the 80-degree temperatures that had them wondering about a winter season.
A storm system Saturday afternoon will be followed by another cold front bringing lows in the 30s early next week and more residents dusting off heaters.
Heating equipment is a leading cause of home fires during December, January and February, according to the National Fire Protection Association. And they trail only cooking equipment in home fires year-round.
In 2001, two out of three reported home heating fires and associated deaths and injuries involved portable and fixed space heaters and related equipment, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
In the approximately 54,900 home heating equipment fires nationwide in 2001, 220 people were killed and 1,120 people were injured. There was an estimated $502 million in property damage nationwide.
Of the five most widely used portable or fixed space heaters, room gas heaters, portable kerosene heaters and portable electric heaters carried the highest risk of deaths and injuries, the agency reported.
Space heaters create a greater risk for causing home fires than central heating because of the greater potential for human error, according to the NFPA. Residents may leave them too close to something combustible or may not install, fuel or operate them properly.
Shawna Traub with Gainesville Fire Rescue said it's not unusual to hear of cases like Monday night's fire where residents also use appliances such as hot plates, ovens or stoves as heaters.
But space heaters are the more commonly used alternative heating sources.
The space heater's age can pose another danger, said Traub and Hughes. Residents may keep them for a long time and forget to check for signs of disrepair such as a frayed cord.
"It's one of those things where you don't use them very often, especially here," Hughes said. "People may have the same space heater they've had for years."
Another worry with the colder temperatures is the chance of brush fires.
A brush fire burned about 10 acres in southwest Alachua County Monday, Hughes said. The fire started at what appeared to be a makeshift camp in the area of 14100 SW 91st St.
The colder temperatures help dry out brush, creating more fuel for a fire.
"It's just kind of sucking the moisture out," Hughes said about the dropping temperatures. "It was one of those where with the dry ground, once the fire started, it just quickly spread."
Lise Fisher can be reached at 374-5092 or fisherl@gvillesun.com.

Safety tips while staying warm

  • When buying a new space heater, make sure it carries the mark of an independent testing laboratory.
  • Be sure to have a fixed space heater installed by a qualified technician according to manufacturer's instructions or applicable code.
  • Have wood and coal stoves, fireplaces, chimneys, chimney connectors and all other solid-fueled heating equipment inspected annually by a professional and cleaned as often as the inspections suggest.
  • Almost all space heaters require a 36-inch clearing from combustibles.
  • Follow manufacturer's instructions when turning a heater on or off.
  • When buying heaters, look for devices with automatic shutoff features.
  • Have any gas-fueled heating device installed with proper attention to ventilation. If unvented gas space heaters are used in bedrooms or bathrooms, make sure they are small and well mounted.
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