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Opinion: Stay ​warm and ​safe this ​winter

By Charlotte Lane

Chairman of the ​West Virginia Public Service Commission

​All too often we hear that someone has lost his/her home to a fire.  Approximately one third of all house fires are caused by space heaters.  Let’s talk about how to safely heat your home this winter.

Charlotte R. Lane

First, if you need help paying for electric or natural gas heat, talk to your utility.  Low-income families may qualify for the Low Income Energy Assistance or 20% discount programs.  Utilities also offer budget billing plans to make heating more affordable or deferred payment plans if you fall behind.  If you need help negotiating with your utility, the Public Service Commission’s Consumer Affairs Technicians can help.  You may contact us at 1-800-642-8544.

If you must use space heaters or other heating methods, please take sensible precautions to keep you and your family safe.  If you use a gas-powered generator, keep it outdoors and clear of any doors or windows that might let fumes seep inside your home.  And never use your oven as a heat source.  There is simply no safe way to do that.

When using a space heater, keep anything flammable at least three feet away from the heat source.  Set your space heater on a flat, level surface away from high traffic areas.  Plug an electric space heater directly into the wall socket.  If you must use an extension cord, use a heavy-duty outdoor cord – and never link multiple extension cords together.  Turn space heaters off before going to bed so they are not left unattended.  Electric blankets can help keep you warm overnight.  If you are using a kerosene heater, make sure you have proper ventilation and keep the fuel outside.

A wood-burning fireplace should be inspected at least every two years.  Know what kinds of wood are safe to burn.  Evergreens and some kinds of scrap wood cause creosote buildup that can set your chimney on fire.

No matter your heat source, smoke and CO2 detectors are a must.  They have saved many lives.  As a closing thought, one symptom of COVID-19 is the loss of smell.  Be aware that if you have or have had the disease, you may not be able to smell a gas leak or smoke from a fire.  If that’s the case, caution other family members to stay alert.  Let’s keep everyone warm – and safe – this winter.

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