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After fatal Milton fire, a look at space heater safety

Developer Kenneth Guscott (center) with his brother Cecil (left) and his daughter Lisa in 2015. Guscott was killed in a fire at his Milton home.JESSICA RINALDI/GLOBE STAFF/FILE

They are rare, but deadly: fires caused by space heaters. A blaze that killed two men in Milton early Monday served as a tragic reminder of the potential peril posed by the heaters.

Investigators say the fire, which claimed a 91-year-old developer and his 87-year-old father-in-law, started when a space heater overloaded a power strip, igniting an electrical fire.

One in nine space heater fires results in a death, and since 2006, such fires have taken the lives of more than 10 people and caused more than $10 million in damage in Massachusetts, according to the Department of Fire Services.

Here’s a look at space heater safety:


The best way to keep yourself safe when using a space heater is to plug it into a wall outlet, according to Jennifer Mieth, a Department of Fire Services spokeswoman.

“Most incidents happen when [space heaters] are plugged into power strips or extension cords,” she said. “These cords are rated for powering a lamp, not supplying large amounts of heat. They just overload.”

But Mieth cautioned that not all failures come from extension cords.

“You want a heater that has been rated by an approved, independent testing lab. That’s to avoid the heater drawing too much power or getting too hot,” Mieth said.

Placement of the heater is also vital, Mieth said.

“People sometimes place [heaters] near a bed to use while they sleep. Something then could fall on top of it during the night and catch. We recommend that [heaters] be placed at least 3 feet away from anything that could catch,” Mieth said.

Using the heaters for long periods of time can potentially lead to danger, according to Mieth.

Heaters “are not meant to be left running overnight or while you’re away. They’re meant to provide an increase of heat for a short time and then be turned off,” Mieth said.


The Milton fire is another example of how older people are particularly vulnerable to fire deaths.

“The elderly — age 65 and above — make up between 30 to 40 percent of all fire deaths and when you add people 50 and above, that number rises to 60 percent. They can feel more susceptible to the cold and can feel more inclined to use a heater,” Mieth said.

Mieth directed consumers interested in buying a space heater to the Department of Fire Service’s website for safety tips.

“If you must have one, take steps to be safe,” Mieth said.

Andrew Grant can be reached at andrew.grant@globe.com.