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Covert fire chief urges caution when using space heaters

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Firefighters in Covert, Michigan are asking residents to be careful when using space heaters.

This message comes just one day after a man died in a fire that investigators believe was caused by a portable propane space heater.

"Just like a car or anything else that you use on a daily basis, you just need to know how to use it," said Covert Township fire chief Doug Myers.

Just before 7 a.m. Friday, emergency crews were called out to a home on 76th Street. When they arrived they encountered a fully engulfed house fire. Shortly after arriving they located the home's owner, 75-year-old Jerry Rawson, outside one of the home's windows.

Police say Rawson was able to rescue his dog and climb out of a window, but still didn't make it. He collapsed just outside that window, and was later pronounced dead at the hospital.

Myers responded to that call and says while Rawson's death is a tragedy for the small community, he says it also serves as a reminder of the dangers of misusing space heaters.

Myers says Rawson had two portable propane space heaters in his home, one in his bedroom. Early indications lead investigators to believe the fire started in the bedroom, and was likely caused by the space heater.

The chief says the portable propane space heaters in Rawson's home were meant for outdoor use only.

Myers says that's just one of the many mistakes people make with space heaters, and he thinks it's critical we take the danger seriously.

"It's absolutely critical," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, this is just as dangerous as a gun in the wrong hands."

Myers says the danger comes in several forms. Outdoor space heaters may run hotter than ones designed for indoor use. Combine that with homes that are fully furnished with fabrics and furniture that are built with highly flammable plastics and he says it's like lighting a match and tossing it into a pool of gas.

"If you're sleeping and there's a fire that starts in your bedroom, you may not even realize it; fires aren't always loud," Myers said.

He says families on average only have a few minutes to escape a home before it becomes fully engulfed and unstable.

Myers wants us to know there are safe space heaters for indoor use out there, and preventing a deadly fire can be as simple as reading the instructions that come with the space heater.

"They tell you where you can and can't put them, they tell you how to plug them in, what extension cords you might need to get if you have to use an extension cord," he said. "All that stuff is in the instructions because the manufacturers don't want anyone to have any issues as much as anybody else."

Myers says families often times push their luck, using space heaters as their only source of heat. It's a practice he says no one should ever do.

"They're really not designed for a sole source of heat," Myers said.

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