Editorial: When temperatures drop, remember to be cautious with home heating equipment

The last week of December usually brings bone-chilling temperatures to our section of North Georgia. However, highs this week through Saturday are forecasted to be in the 70s with lows in the mid-50s before the thermometer begins falling Sunday into next week.

While you may not be using your fireplace, furnace or space heaters to warm your home now, it's a good idea to remember to be extremely cautious while using home heating equipment this winter.

"If used carelessly, heating equipment such as space heaters and fireplaces can become fire hazards," according to John F. King, Georgia Insurance and Safety Fire commissioner.

Heating equipment is a leading cause of residential fires in the United States. Data from the National Fire Prevention Association shows that local fire departments responded to an annual average of 48,530 fires resulting from negligent heater use between 2014 and 2018. These fires resulted in 500 deaths, 1,350 injuries and $1.1 billion in property damage.

Due to the risk of heating equipment, King offered these tips to keep you and your home safe this winter:

• Have your fireplace or wood stove chimney and chimney connectors inspected and cleaned at the start of the heating season.

• Do not plug heating equipment into extension cords. This can lead to overheating of the cord, damage to the appliance and increased risk of fire or electric shock.

• Move anything that can burn (for example, furniture, bedding, clothing) at least three feet from your heater, fireplace or wood stove -- 54% of home heating fire deaths were caused by having heating equipment too close to things that can burn.

• Keep your children and pets safely away from your portable or space heater.

• Turn off your portable or space heater before leaving the room.

• Never use your oven to heat your home.

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