Space heater Probable Cause of Fire that Kills Dorothy Jones and Tom McKinney in St. Louis West End

On Tuesday, January 28, 2014, Dorothy L. Jones, age 80; and her adult nephew, Tom McKinney, Jr. 62, died in a house fire in St. Louis’ west end. Firefighters responding to the scene found the three-story house already fully engulfed in flames by the time they arrived. Preliminary reports indicate that faulty wiring associated with a space heater fire caused the fatal incident.

Grim Statistics Related to Space Heaters

According to the National Fire Protection Association, heating equipment contributed to an estimated 53,600 home structure fires in 2011, accounting for 400 deaths, 1,520 injuries and $893 million in direct property damage. Space heaters were implicated in 14% of all reported home fires.  In addition, hundreds more die or are injured each year as a result of poorly-vented gas and kerosene space heaters.

Space heaters, typically used to heat smaller enclosed areas can pose significant safety hazards. The two primary health risks associated with their use are fires and carbon monoxide poisoning, the latter applying to gas and kerosene heaters, backdrafting vented space heaters and leaky wood stoves, but not electrical portable heaters. The risk with portable electric heaters is that they are high wattage and can easily ignite nearby combustible items like curtains, bedspreads, paper and clothing. Unvented combustion units should never be used inside a home because the byproducts they produce—nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and water vapor—deplete air space and can cause carbon monoxide poisoning.

Safety Tips

Space heaters are intended for use as a supplement to a central heating system but unfortunately are widely relied on as a primary source of heating due to the high cost of utility bills. As such, it is important to follow these simple safety tips when using a space heater or checking on a relative or friend during these cold winter months:

  • Purchase and use space heaters with a safety guard around the flame area or the heating element. This will help keep combustible items as well as children and pets away from the heat source.
  • When selecting a space heater, purchase one that meets strict safety standards and is certified by a nationally-recognized testing laboratory.
  • Buy a heater that is appropriately-sized for the area that you are trying to heat and educate everyone in the household on its proper use.
  • If you are using a kerosene or natural gas space heater (not recommended inside a house), make sure that it is vented to the outdoors; otherwise you will need to keep doors open to prevent the buildup of toxic gases.
  • Turn off space heaters when you leave or go to bed.
  • Install a smoke and carbon monoxide detector on each floor and in each common area of your house. Smoke alarms are free to all St. Louis city residents for use in residential settings. To obtain and have a free smoke alarm installed, call:
    • Captain Mike KillingsworthPublic Education Officer
      St. Louis Fire Department HQ
      Office:  (314) 289-1905
      Fax:  (314) 286-8606

You may also submit a request on line.  E-mail [email protected]

  • Mobile homes require specially designated heating equipment. Only electric or vented fuel-fired heaters should ever be used.

As personal injury lawyers, we encounter the tragic consequences caused by space heaters all too often. We want you and your loved ones to stay warm andsafe during these cold months. Our goal is to help you avoid the heartache of an otherwise preventable tragedy. Follow these important simple safety tips and make sure to check on your elderly family members, friends and neighbors to ensure they are using their space heaters properly. However, if you or a loved one has been injured or wrongfully killed in an accident caused by a space heater, call one of our top trial lawyers for a free consultation. We are here to help with the answers you need. Call one of our Top 100 Trial lawyers at: 314-409-7060 or 855-40-CRASH (toll free).

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