With temperatures in the single digits and lower expected to last into next week. many Mid-Ohio Valleyans are reaching for their thermostats to turn up the heat.
However, with higher heating costs, many people also are turning to less costly ways to keep warm: with portable units such as space heaters, the most common of which are fueled by kerosene.
Used properly, space heaters are effective for a single room, but they are dangerous and are the source of many house fires.
House fires can and do happen at any time, but they are especially prevalent during the winter. According to the National Fire Protection Association, half of the 54,000 home fires annually reported in the United States occur in December, January and February.
According to data published by the American Red Cross on the agency's fire fact sheet, much of which is based on data compiled by the NFPA, space heaters (portable electric heaters, portable kerosene heaters, wood stoves, fireplaces with inserts and room gas heaters) account for 66 percent of all home fires.
These fires often have deadly consequences. Between 2007-2011, fixed and portable space heaters, were involved in 74 percent of fire-related deaths. Every 72 and a half hours, someone is killed in a home fire. Children 5 years old and under accounted for 14 percent of the home fire deaths, despite making up only about 7 percent of the country's population.
Some precautions are needed when using space heaters. Experts recommend nothing flammable placed within 3 feet of these units. A space heater should never be kept on when no one is home and probably should not be used at night when the household is asleep.
And, above all, every home should be equipped with a working smoke detector in as many rooms as possible.
There are programs to help families who cannot afford to pay their utility bills. For information about these programs, contact the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.