As cold weather settles in again, a tragic accident in Westminster, Maryland, reminds us that space heaters, when improperly used, can be the cause of serious injuries, property damage and death. Early in the morning on November 9, Bernie Toporzycki opened the door of a backyard shed and was met with a huge explosion. Mr. Toporzycki received second and third degree burns and died two days later at the Johns Hopkins Burn Center in Baltimore. The Toporzycki home and those on either side were so severely damaged that they were condemned. As many as 11 homes in the neighborhood were harmed by the blast.
The Maryland State Fire Marshal is investigating the cause of the explosion. Officials said the explosion may have happened because of a space heater that was placed too close to propane tanks. Senior Deputy State Fire Marshal Bruce Bouch told WUSA 9, “We’re always reaching out to the public, ‘Please make sure you have a 3 feet area around any portable space heater, wood stove or fireplace.”
Space heaters cause 25,000 home fires a year and 6,000 emergency room visits, according to the Harvard University Environmental Health & Safety group. Statistics from Nationwide Insurance indicate that 80 percent of home heating fire deaths involve space heaters.
Experts offer the following tips for safe use of space heaters:
- Always put the space heater on a hard, flat, nonflammable surface, not a carpeted area.
- Make sure the heater is at least 3 feet away from anything that can burn. This includes upholstered furniture, curtains, bedding, clothing, paper, spray cans, paint and flammable liquids.
- Keep children and pets away.
- Never leave it turned on when you leave or when you go to bed.
- Install and test smoke alarms regularly.
- Don’t use an extension cord with a space heater.
- Unless the heater is designed for use outdoors or in bathrooms, do not use in damp, wet locations.
- If the space heater runs on liquid fuel, use only the fuel recommended by the manufacturer.
- Promptly wipe up any spills of liquid fuel.
- Turn off the heater and let it cool before adding fuel.
- Fuel-burning appliances such as kerosene heaters generate deadly carbon monoxide fumes, so proper ventilation is essential.
If you’re a Baltimore resident and wish to use a kerosene heater this winter, you should contact the Baltimore County Fire Department’s Fire Marshal’s Office at 410-887-4880, because kerosene heaters are not permitted in some types of residences.
Some house fires happen because of a defective product – perhaps a space heater – or a negligent repairman. At The Law Offices of Steven H. Heisler, we have helped many Marylanders who were burned in fires, explosions, electrical accidents and chemical spills. Our website contains answers to many of the most frequently asked questions about burn injuries. If we can help you after an accident in which you or your loved one was hurt, call (410) 625-4878 for a free consultation.