Space heaters blamed for several house fires

Fire tore through a home on West 16th Street in Speedway Friday, Jan. 1, 2016. (WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Dropping temperatures means increasing the thermostat inside. It also means, for many, pulling out the space heaters. But fire officials say the majority of house fires during the winter time are caused by supplemental heaters.

Just five days into the new year, there’s already a problem.

Early Tuesday morning a victim told authorities that she believes an unattended space heater caused her home to go up in flames.

Speedway Town Fire Department says they’ve already had three fires in 2016 due to supplemental heating; one was fatal.

Fire ripped through a home on the 5500 block of West 16th Street in Speedway early New Years day. Inside were Greg Staab and his girlfriend Penny Stewart.

The blaze was so bad that Wayne Township Fire Department was called in for backup.

“It was a high stress situation. They had people trapped in the home that they needed to get in, get that person out, make sure nobody else was inside,” explained Wayne Township Fire Cpt. Mike Pruitt.

Speedway officials believe a wood-burning stove started the fire. Both Staab and Stewart were rushed to the hospital in critical condition. Staab is still hospitalized. Stewart died as a result of the fire. It’s an all too familar ending for Pruitt.

“We have had a history of fatal fires here in the township in the last couple of years due to misuse of space heaters. So, it’s a huge concern,” he said.

Tuesday morning, near 34th Street and Shadeland Avenue around 12:40 a 14-year old woke to the smell of smoke. She alerted her family of seven, who all made it out of the burning home safely. Authorities say their space heater was left unattended near a chair.

Pruitt isn’t against space heaters, as long as they’re used properly. “We preach this message every year. We’d like to think, and we’re pretty sure that a lot of people do get the message. But there are a few people that slip through the cracks,” he said.

That’s why the message is worth repeating. For those using supplemental heaters, Captain Pruitt recommends:

  • Only buy new heaters. Avoid purchasing from second hand stores, garage sales or online where its history/use is unknown.
  • Give plenty of space between the heater and anything else; three feet is the minimum recommendation
  • Do not leave them unattended.
  • Have chimneys cleaned by a licensed professional annually.
  • Those using gas heaters, need to fill with proper gas (ex: kerosene heaters should be filled with kerosene only)

It’s a message, he hopes will save lives, “They understand what we’re asking them to do, so that when we meet them for the first time, it’s not at a house fire or a tragic situation,” Pruitt said.

Pruitt also stressed the importance of checking smoke detectors monthly, at a minimum.

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