13News Now Investigation: Space heaters can start fires if used improperly

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by Nick Ochsner, 13News Now

WVEC.com

Posted on December 6, 2013 at 2:32 PM

Updated Friday, Dec 6 at 7:20 PM

VIRGINIA BEACH- As Hampton Roads braces for a cold spell, some people will be breaking out their space heaters to help stay warm.

A 13News Now investigation has found that setting up that space heater incorrectly could lead to major fire danger.

Normal guidelines for space heaters of all kinds dictate you should set them up with a clearance of three to five feet. The more room the space heater has, fire safety experts say, the less likely it is to fall or come in contact with something and catch on fire.

We found out for ourselves just how easy it is to start a fire with a space heater, with some help from the Virginia Beach Fire Department. We bought an electric space heater and set it up in front of a window with a curtain. It took just minutes for a corner of the curtain draped in front of the space heater to dry out and become a fire danger.

When a firefighter touched that corner to a heating coil, it instantly went up in flames.

"It doesn't take a lot for this to happen at your house," firefighter Alex Wazlak said. "It can happen very quick."

Without warning, flames spread across the curtain and a cloud of thick, black smoke billowed across the room.

It's easy to imagine just how fast the fire would have spread in an ordinary living room, especially one decked for the holidays with a Christmas tree and decorations.

Wazlak also cautioned kerosene heater users to make sure there's a carbon monoxide detector in the house to detect a high level of potentially dangerous fumes.

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