Winter Danger: Fires and Explosions From Heating Equipment and Devices


Winter Danger: Fires and Explosions From Heating Equipment and Devices

The Richmond Hill gas explosion that destroyed much of that Indianapolis community was not caused by an accident, but by arson (see our prior post for details). However, as these folk rebuild their lives and we all follow the news of the criminal proceedings to find justice for them — especially those two innocent neighbors who died in the explosion — there is a warning for us all.

The danger of a serious home explosion and wide-spread fire from a faulty gas heater here in Indiana or Illinois is real. And the risk of a serious explosion or fire from a variety of heating devices, where people die or are permanently harmed, obviously gets much higher in the winter months.

Electric heaters, gas heaters (propane, natural gas), fireplaces, ceramic heaters — even CACH battery-operated thermostats on your wall — can all cause fires where people are severely injured, or sometimes even tragically killed from burn injuries.  And modern homes are more vulnerable to fast-spreading, toxic, and volatile fires than homes built in past eras.  See FEMA’s “Changing Severity of Home Fires: Workshop Report,” for details.

Upcoming: National Burn Awareness Week

Taking the time today to consider the safety of our homes, and protecting our loved ones from home explosions and fires, coincides with the upcoming National Burn Awareness Week (February 1-7), when the American Burn Association will be promoting fire safety awareness in a national public safety campaign. Learn more about it here (where this year’s target is educating folk on scald injuries).

Most Fires Reported in Winter Months

According to the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), most fire injuries happen in this country at home when people are seriously hurt and killed from residential fires. FEMA reports that winter is when most of these injuries occur. Moreover, their data shows that 67% of winter fires in this country happen in single family dwellings; not businesses, or apartment complexes, or condos.

Many of these fires begin from cooking mishaps. However, the risk of being hurt or killed because of a faulty heater or heating device is also a major cause of personal injury in states like ours, where we have harsh winters and heating equipment is under heavy use for extended periods of time.

The National Fire Prevention Association reports that almost half of all space heater fires are caused by electric space heaters.

And these kinds of heaters are growing in popularity because they can be used in specific rooms (bedrooms, for instance) allowing the remainder of the house to be at a lower temperature, which can mean big savings on the family’s utility bill.

So how to stay safe?

The Centers for Disease Control offer the following suggestions to keep safe from home heating fires and explosions during the winter months:

  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your wood stove, space heater, etc.;
  • Make sure there is enough ventilation for fireplaces and fuel-burning heaters; and
  • Keep space heaters far away from flammable materials (curtains, throws, etc.).

Negligence Will Still Cause Fires Where People Are Seriously Injured

However, even if you take every safety precaution there is still the risk of a serious home fire or explosion from a heating device in your home. Sometimes, a particular product may malfunction or fail to work properly (defective product). Sometimes, an entire line of products is flawed and sold in the marketplace until the danger is discovered and they are recalled (product liability).

And there are sadly too many instances where someone who has a duty to keep people safe fails in their job (negligence). Landlords are notorious for not wanting to pay for maintenance visits by heating technicians to check on hot water heaters; gas heating (CACH) units; etc. And appliance repairmen can make mistakes – like leaving a valve loose – that can cause a serious fire or explosion.

Check For Heater Recalls With the Consumer Product Safety Commission

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) monitors heating products in this country. They have a web page dedicated to recalled heating products. If you are concerned about any heating device in your home, then check out their list here as well as those that are recorded at Recalls.Gov.

Personal Injury Claims As a Result of a Serious Fire or Explosion

For those who have been hurt and suffer burn injuries in a home heating fire or explosion, the first issue is getting emergency medical care and then an established long-term treatment plan in place. After someone has been seriously hurt or killed in a fire or explosion, the next question will arise as to the cause of the accident.

Often, the focus at the fire scene switches to “what happened here?” before the accident victim has even made it to the hospital.

It is in the best interests of that accident victim to have an independent investigation from those done by any insurance carrier to confirm what was the reason for the incident.

Furthermore, it is vitally important in some cases for evidence to be preserved as soon as possible, even though there is pressure to clean up the scene and fix the damage. Things that are key to determining cause in a fire accident or the aftermath of an explosion can literally fly away in a breeze, or simply evaporate.

Things to consider in these investigations (for all burn injury claims, fire or explosion):

1. Heating equipment in use and its hazard record;
2. Fire code for the area and if the dwelling was built to code;
3. Condition of heating equipment;
4. Recent repair or maintenance;
5. Safety equipment (smoke alarms), etc..

Burn victims often have years of medical care ahead of them, some facing multiple surgeries and extensive physical therapy as they recover from the accident. It’s important to their futures to determine the cause of that fire or explosion, and where financial liability may lie under products liability or state negligence law. Even landlord-tenant law may impact a fire case.

Experts in fire damage are often needed in these cases. This is because scientific analysis may be required to discover what happened. What were the causes and origins of the fire? Only scientific proof can answer those questions in many serious fire cases.

Meanwhile, not only will there be local fire department inspectors making their own call on the event, there will likely be experts hired by the insurance company representing the home owner/landlord, or the gas company, or the appliance repair company, etc., on the scene. The insurance company stance, of course, will be to limit liability of its policy holder as much as possible.

Home heating fires are a real danger to all of us during these cold winter months. Let’s be careful out there!

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