MIAMI (CBSMiami) —  Too often, when the weather turns cool in South Florida preventable fires from heating systems end tragically. Using stoves or portable heaters in a makeshift fashion frequently pose the greatest threat.

According to the Home Safety Council, each year in the United States 240,000 home fires occur as households use gas, wood, kerosene, coal or other fuels as their major heating source. Burning these fuels releases potentially fatal carbon monoxide (CO) fumes. Every year, exposure to dangerous levels of CO results in more than 100,000 medical visits and 300 home poisoning deaths in the U.S.

The Broward Sheriff’s Office Department of Fire Rescue and Emergency Services provides the following tips to help you avoid tragedy this winter:

  • Install a smoke alarm and carbon monoxide (CO) alarm on every level of your home and near sleeping areas and make sure to keep them in good working order. Carbon monoxide is a silent killer.
  • Never use a gas or charcoal barbecue grill inside your home or any enclosed area.
  • Avoid using a cooking stove to heat your home.
  • Turn off gas or electric space heaters before leaving a room or going to sleep.
  • Establish a fire escape plan with at least two means of exit from every room.

Chimney maintenance:

  • Proper chimney maintenance reduces the buildup of creosote, a black tar substance that can block passageways or ignite.
  • All chimneys should be thoroughly cleaned at least once a year. Remember, soot and creosote buildup in the chimney is what flue fires are made of.

Heating equipment:

  • Burns and fires associated with portable heaters, fireplaces and furnaces are a major concern. Any heating device must have care and maintenance to operate properly.
  • When you turn on the heat in your home for the first time, expect a slight burning smell from the accumulation of dust that burns off coils. This smell should dissipate within a few minutes. If it does not, or if you notice an increase, call 9-1-1, as there may be an electrical problem.
  • Keep plenty of clear space – at least 36 inches around and above – for all heating devices. Both fireplaces and portable heaters should be constantly attended when in use. Never go to bed or leave home while either is in use.
  • Never use candles as a heat source.

Portable heaters

  • Keep children away from space heaters.
  • Keep heaters out of high traffic areas and away from pets.
  • Don’t hide cords from portable heaters under rugs.
  • Try not to use extension cords with space heaters. Use only heavy-duty extension cords if necessary.

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