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Space Heater Blamed For Early Morning Southeast Fire

Wednesday, January 9, 2002

DC Fire Investigators determined that an improperly maintained electric space heater is to blame for a house fire this morning in Southeast Washington that caused considerable damage, but luckily, no injuries.

The fire was reported shortly after 1am at 4633 Hilltop Terrace, SE. The fire apparently began in a first- floor bedroom and spread to another room, the attic, and eventually through the roof.

All occupants were able to escape, but considerable damage was done to the single-family detached home. Estimates by fire investigators are upwards of $40,000.

"The smoke detectors did work properly, and that's what probably saved the residents," said Battalion Chief Pat Johnson, the incident commander. The space heater was pushed too close to a bed. Sheets were ignited, and the fire quickly consumed the room.

While electric space heaters are legal in the District of Columbia, DC Fire/EMS does not recommend their use.

"Some horrible tragedies have been caused through either malfunctioning or the improper use of space heaters," said Fire Marshal Bruce Cowan. "It's important that we pay attention to the relevant safety issues on this topic, especially now that winter is upon us."

Space Heater Safety Tips

  • Keep combustible materials, including bedding, draperies, clothing, rugs and furniture at least three feet away from the heater. Always follow the manufacturer's recommendations for safe use.

  • When buying a space heater, always make sure it has an automatic tip-over switch-- it will shut off automatically if knocked over.
  • Don't use space heaters in rooms where children or pets are unsupervised. Even the slightest contact with a heat coil can cause a severe burn or shock.
  • Turn off AND unplug your space heater when leaving the room.
  • Look for the Underwriters Laboratory seal--which means it has been safety checked.
  • The use of fueled Space heaters (i.e., propane, kerosene, etc) is ILLEGAL in the District of Columbia.