By Tamas Mondovics

The arrival of the season’s first freezing temperatures affecting Hillsborough County residents may not be as alarming when compared to the rest of the country, which has already seen its fair share of cold and record-breaking snowfall, but cold is cold and when overnight temperatures dip into the mid-to low 30’s, it’s wise to be reminded of some precautions to protect homes, animals and plants.

Hillsborough County officials hoped to accomplish just that by posting some reminders, a few safety tips from Fire Rescue, the Pet Resource Center, Public Utilities and the Extension Service.

The County’s report emphasized that according to the National Fire Protection Association and the U.S. Fire Administration, an estimated 900 portable heater fires in homes are reported to U.S. fire departments each year and cause an estimated 70 deaths, 150 injuries and $53 million in property loss.

The release said that heating equipment is a leading cause of home fire deaths and that half of home heating equipment fires are reported during the months of December, January and February.

To help residents be safe during the next few months, County officials pulled together some safety tips and suggestions compiled below:

–  Keep flammable objects at least 3 ft. away from heating equipment such as furnaces, fireplaces, wood stoves and portable space heaters.

–  Only use space heaters that are approved by a recognized testing laboratory, and that are equipped with an automatic shut-off switch so that the heater turns off if tipped over.

–  Have a 3-ft. “kid-free zone” around open fires and space heaters.

–  Never use the oven to heat your home.

–  Turn off portable heaters when leaving the room or going to bed.

–  Plug portable heaters directly into outlets and never into an extension cord or power strip.

–  Always use the right kind of fuel, specified by the manufacturer, for fuel-burning space heaters.

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