Space heaters are the leading cause of home fire deaths

RIDDLE, Ore. – A house fire March 1 claimed the lives of four children.

Two more family members passed away in a Portland hospital a day later due to their serious injuries.

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The Riddle Fire Department believes an electric space heater caused the deadly home fire.

The Douglas County Sheriff's Office released a statement saying the exact cause is still under investigation by the Oregon State Fire Marshall's Office.

The sheriff's office confirms there was a space heater in the home and have not ruled it out as a possible cause.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, space heaters were linked to 83 percent of home fire deaths between the years 2009 and 2013.

"Space heaters need space. You need at least three feet of clear space all the way around the space heater, and they need to be used under supervision. You need to be aware of them and keeping an eye on them all the time," said Amy Linder with the Eugene-Springfield Fire Department.

Linder also listed the following safety tips on how to handle electric space heaters:

  • Make sure it’s plugged into an approved grounded outlet, not extension cords.
  • Turn the appliance off when you leave the room or go to bed.
  • Make sure it’s a listed and labeled heater.
  • Double check that it’s in good working order: it’s been maintained properly, has no frayed cords, has no recalls.
  • Consider purchasing a newer model that has a tip feature. If it gets knocked over it automatically turns off.

Keeping a space heater isolated keeps it away from combustible material, meaning anything that can burn.

"Common things that we see related to space heaters and combustible material: if a space heater is up against too close to the back of a sofa and it ignites the back of the couch. Or if drapes and curtains are hanging low next to the space heater, can ignite those. Piles of clothes,” Linder said.

It's important to know: combustible and flammable items do not spontaneously catch fire.

"Every item that burns has an ignition temperature and an ignition point so what happens over time, it's a scientific process called pyrolysis,” Linder said.

"Basically the items, if it's too close to combustible materials, they tend to dry out. And so then they reach their ignition temperature so then they combust,” said Rich Holloway, Fire Chief for the Riddle Fire Department.

In addition to home heating appliance safety, it's important to remember to have working smoke alarms and have a home escape plan year round.

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