Tips for operating space heaters

When buying a space heater:Make sure it's been tested and approved by an independent lab, such as Underwriters Laboratory (look for the UL on the label).Look for a model with a thermostat that will shut off at a certain temperature. Check for a circuit that will shut off the heater if it tips over.When using space heaters:Don't go to sleep with the heater on, and don't leave a space heater running when nobody is in the room. Don't plug a space heater into a power strip or extension cord; extension cords aren't made for high-amp appliances.Don't knot the cord or cover it with a floor mat; that can end up fraying the cord and causing a fire.Bianca Sancic, communications officer for the North Charleston Fire Department, adds another safety tip: Make sure the space heater is at least 3 feet from curtains, clothes or other flammable materials.Both safety officials also emphasized the need for at least one working smoke alarm on each floor of a house.

A Mount Pleasant woman sitting in her den reading the newspaper Friday afternoon was startled to see fire shooting out of her space heater.

“I looked over there and there were these yellow flames shooting out of the dial,” said Mary Yarborough, who lives in a two-story house in Brickyard Plantation. “I went over there and pulled it out of the wall.”

Safety officials say her experience is not that unusual, which is why they advise never leaving a space heater running with nobody there to keep an eye on it.

“I consider myself extremely lucky,” Yarborough said. “If I had not been home, there's no doubt about it; my house would have burned to the ground.”

She pulled the plug fast enough that the flame didn't leave a mark on the plastic case. But the appliance still emits the smell of burned electrical circuitry.

The heater is made by Patton. She contacted a company representative, and they're sending her a new model. They're also sending her a mailing label so she can send them the heater and they can try to figure out what went wrong.

“I really want to know what happened here,” said Yarborough, who is mechanically inclined herself and does many of her home repairs.

Charleston Chief Fire Marshal Mike Julazadeh said he often sees fires started by electric space heaters.

When buying a space heater:

Make sure it's been tested and approved by an independent lab, such as Underwriters Laboratory (look for the UL on the label).

Look for a model with a thermostat that will shut off at a certain temperature.

Check for a circuit that will shut off the heater if it tips over.

When using space heaters:

Don't go to sleep with the heater on, and don't leave a space heater running when nobody is in the room.

Don't plug a space heater into a power strip or extension cord; extension cords aren't made for high-amp appliances.

Don't knot the cord or cover it with a floor mat; that can end up fraying the cord and causing a fire.

Bianca Sancic, communications officer for the North Charleston Fire Department, adds another safety tip: Make sure the space heater is at least 3 feet from curtains, clothes or other flammable materials.

Both safety officials also emphasized the need for at least one working smoke alarm on each floor of a house.

Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553 or twitter.com/dmunday.