Working smoke detectors may have saved the life of a Saucier woman who escaped a house fire unharmed Monday night.
Harrison County Fire Chief Pat Sullivan said a home on Mississippi 53 near Herman Ladner Road in Saucier caught fire about 11:15 Monday night. Sullivan said Virginia Stewart was awakened when smoke detectors went off.
"She told us that she was asleep and she heard the smoke detectors and jumped out of bed," Sullivan said. "Stewart was the only person in the house and she had enough time to get out of there before the fire had gotten too big."
Six units and 16 firefighters from Lizana Fire, the Air National Guard's Combat Readiness Training Center and Harrison County responded to the fire. Sullivan said it took about an hour to put out the fire, and the house was heavily damaged.
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Although the fire is still under investigation, Sullivan said it may have been caused by an electric heater.
Heaters are dangerous
According to the National Fire Protection Association, electric heaters contributed to one-third of all winter house fires in 2014 and 80 percent of all winter fire deaths.
Sullivan said one way to reduce heating-related fires is by ensuring space heaters are not damaged or outdated.
"If the heater does not have the modern safety devices and shut-off switch, then you should not use it, and you should get a new one instead," he said.
Choosing the correct location for a space heater is also important. Sullivan said not to place heaters too close to furniture, near clothing or in small spaces.
Also important, "you don't need to leave the heaters running if you aren't at home," he said.
Electric heaters are not the only source of indoor heating danger.
Gas heaters need service
Wayne Cumberland of Coast A/C and Heat said gas heaters need to be serviced regularly.
"One of the biggest threats from gas heaters is carbon monoxide poisoning," he said. "You can't smell carbon monoxide. Gas piping has a lot of different pieces and it needs to be checked to make sure carbon monoxide is not escaping from the vents."
He said central heating units also need to be serviced throughout the year, preferably before it gets cold.
"When you cut the heat on, and you smell that familiar smell, that is dust burning off," he said. "You shouldn't be alarmed unless the smell is heavier than usual and you see smoke. We recommend people burn off their heaters before the cold weather comes."
Keep chimneys clean
Wood-burning fireplaces also can be dangerous if chimneys are not properly cleaned.
"When you burn wood, creosote builds up inside the chimney," Mark Warden of Top Hat Fireplace Store said. "When the creosote builds up, it can easily catch fire. It can burn a house down."
Sullivan said precautionary measures are always recommended with any heating devices, but nothing can replace a working smoke detector.
"Every year, we have a loss of lives from fire due to people not having smoke detectors in their homes," he said. "I hope one year we can have a zero-loss year. Two things every home should have is an escape plan and working smoke detectors."