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Here's how to stay safe while using space heaters this winter

The biggest piece of advice fire departments offered is: do not leave an alternate heat source unattended.

SILVER SPRING, Md. — After an electric space heater sparked the deadly Bronx fire, local fire departments are offering tips to keep you and your family safe as temperatures drop.

As of Tuesday, 17 people have died in the weekend's New York City fire, and more are injured.

WUSA9 spoke with D.C.'s Fire Marshal and Montgomery County's Fire Chief about the most dangerous practices they typically see in the winter and how to avoid them.

Their main piece of advice is to not leave anything unattended --- be it a space heater, fireplace or candle.

On Saturday, Montgomery County Fire said a candle sparked a fire at Silver Spring's Flower Branch apartments, which ended up displacing more than 50 people.

“It's devastating," Robert Goldman said. "For many families, they lost a lot… lost everything they had --- not just all their belongings, but their memories of years ago.”

Goldman serves as the President of the Montgomery Housing Partnership, which is helping get the families who've been displaced the supplies they need.

RELATED: Dozens rescued, about 50 displaced after 2-alarm fire at Flower Branch Apartments in Silver Spring

Now, fire officials are sounding the alarm about using alternative heat sources during the colder months.

“When it gets cold outside, we really do see an uptick in fires in the community," D.C. Fire Marshal Mitchell Kannry said. "Residents are using space heaters or other heating sources and those can be really dangerous.”

In Fairfax County, a fire department spokesperson said that since September 2020, they have seen eight fires from heaters and fireplaces.

The National Fire Protection Association reports that heating equipment is the second-leading cause of U.S. home fires and the third-leading cause of home fire deaths and injuries.

D.C.'s fire marshal and Montgomery County's fire chief said there are simple ways to protect yourself:

  • Keep a minimum of three feet of space around space heaters
  • Plug space heaters directly into a wall, never a power strip or extension cord
  • Make sure that alternative heat sources are unplugged and off whenever you leave the room they're in
  • Do not use your oven or stove to heat your home, because that creates carbon monoxide
  • Ensure adequate ventilation when using a fireplace or woodstove

"Each year, we see multiple fires that are directly related to [the] mistreatment of or mishandling of the fireplace ashes," Montgomery County Fire Chief Scott Goldstein said. "Those ashes need to be put in a metal can, tight sealing lid. That metal can then needs to be placed away from the house.”

"The house can be rebuilt, you know, but lives cannot be replaced," Kannry said. "So we want to make sure that everybody can get out safely and hopefully prevent a tragedy like we saw."

Kannry also said to get an electric space heater that has a sensor that will turn off the heater if it tips over.

He also suggested shutting the door behind you if you live in an apartment building and have to escape a fire. He said that will help prevent the fire from spreading so quickly.

RELATED: Several with grave injuries after NYC fire that killed 17

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