Experts offer safety tips for staying warm at home

Hardware store expects to sell out of space heaters because of freeze

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The big chill that descended on Northeast Florida on Tuesday had space heaters flying off the shelves at one local Home Depot store.

"Being in Florida, it's a different market, so they only send us so many," said Ora Brown with The Home Depot.

Brown said his store has sold 40-50 space heaters already and he expects to be sold out by the end of the week, but they've already ordered more. Brown said a space heater is a good way to heat up a small bedroom, but it's important to have a model with a safety feature that shuts it off if it tips over.

Also, don't leave the heater on overnight and keep it 3 feet from anything combustible, Brown said.

Firefighters said those could be life-saving tips to remember, because space heaters account for one-third of all home-heating fires each year and 80 percent of home-heating fire deaths.

"The biggest thing is just awareness. If you're using a heating source in your home, be aware of how it's operating and is it operating correctly," said St. Johns County Fire Rescue spokesman Jeremy Robshaw. "We're trying to remind folks it's a good time to practice fire safety at your home as you try to keep it warm."

That means maintaining chimneys and fireplaces, removing build-up, making sure pipes are protected with foam or tape, and having working smoke detectors.

"Have working smoke alarms and test them to make sure they're working," Robshaw said. "Make sure your batteries are good. That's your first line of defense if any of those other things don't work as they're designed and a fire does start."

It's also smart to do a spot test to see how fast your area warms up with a space heater.

"Some heaters in our 15-minute test could only raise the dummy's temperature four degrees, while the best could raise it much higher," said Peter Sawchuk of Consumer Reports.

One heater model to be aware of is the Whole Room Vortex heater, which was recently recalled by the manufacturer. It has been blamed in 29 instances of overheating and melting, including seven fires. The heaters were sold in stores and online from June 2013 through May 2014.

Hidden Dangers

Space heaters are not the only danger associated with the cold weather change. Hundreds of people every year die from carbon monoxide poisoning.

The gas is often called the silent killer because it cannot be seen or smelled.

The symptoms of poisoning are severe headaches, dizziness and mental confusion. Anyone experiencing any of these symptoms should get fresh air right away and go to an emergency room.

Prevention is the key to not falling victim to carbon monoxide poisoning, so a detector is a good investment. It will alert you when high levels of CO are in an area.