The American Red Cross and Omaha fire officials are reminding people to be cautious when using auxiliary heat sources, especially space heaters.
The reminder comes after an increase in the number of fires caused by space heaters, fireplaces, stoves and other heating sources.
The Red Cross said at least 145 people in Nebraska and western Iowa were displaced by fires caused by auxiliary heat sources in December.
The organization said it provided food, clothing and shelter for families in homes damaged or destroyed in 62 fires in December alone.
Last year, 55 homes burned during the same month.
“As soon as the first cold weather hits is where we start to see it,” said William Bernard, a battalion chief for the Omaha Fire Department.
He said “one of the most common problems is people leave space heaters unattended.”
Last month, two young children were killed in a fire at their northwest Omaha mobile home. A space heater was considered the probable cause. Bernard said the family didn't have a working furnace.
Two ducks were killed in a fire in a Bellevue trailer last week. Heat lamps caused the blaze, fire officials there said.
Fireplaces also can be a danger. Verlan Rumbaugh, a longtime Red Cross volunteer from Omaha, said sometimes extra firewood left too close to the fireplace ignites.
Rumbaugh said most people who make such mistakes, especially with space heaters and stoves, know better.
Alma Leon nearly burned down her home Dec. 23 at Salt Valley Apartments in Lincoln. She accidentally turned her stove burner to “high” instead of “off.”
“I heard a cracking and when I looked up, the kitchen was engulfed,” she said.
There were no injuries; Leon and her grandchildren were able to get out safely.
Bernard, the battalion chief, said space heaters should be at least 3 feet from other objects, especially clothing and bedding. He said most of the time, space heaters can be operated with no problems.
“You kind of forget it's a concern,” he said. “But people just can't leave them unattended.”