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Fire departments warn of space heater dangers

WEST MICHIGAN -- Over the past couple of months, West Michigan has experienced several fires with space heaters identified as the cause. That includes a fatal fire in Covert Township. According to the National Fire Protection Association, 43 percent of house fires were caused by space heaters from 2011 to 2015.

"Residential fires tend to peak in the months of December and January for us," Holmes said.

He explained, "That's obviously due to the heating season. So we would strongly recommend people rely on their central heating systems in their homes."

Dutton Fire lieutenant Brett Holmes said have your chimneys and gas furnaces checked and cleaned to eliminate fire and carbon monoxide hazards. If you must use another heat source, like a space heater, beware of the dangers.

Allendale Fire Department posted a warning of its own on Facebook showing the hazards of using a power strip. Lieutenant Holmes said make sure to follow the directions.

"We want that placed on an even hard surface [and] out of reach of children and pets. They generally need to stay three feet away from anything that's burnable, including people. We want that plugged into the outlet, not an extension cord or surge protector device because that can create electrical fire hazards," Holmes explained.

Don't block doorways, and turn them off before you go to bed. You might notice some of the units on the market today have advanced safety features. Holmes said that's a plus but not necessarily fail proof.

"It's important that you don't rely on those and don't take those for granted," he said.

"Essentially, the best precautionary measure here is that you're being attentive to it, that you're watching how you're using, that you're being present, and you're maintaining an eye on these things because you can't necessarily count on that these built in safety devices are going to be 100% effective," Holmes explained.

If you use or plan to get a space heater, Holmes suggests you buy a new, electric heater that's been independently tested in a lab and comes with a warranty instead of using an old one you obtain second hand.

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