Stores sell out of space heaters; firefighters warn of dangers

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While it's cold outside, people around Florida are doing whatever they can to stay warm inside. They're layering blankets, using space heaters and lighting fireplaces.

But, as we've seen, even a tiny mistake with a heat source can burn an entire house to the ground. As people are rushing out to the stores for heaters, fire officials are urging them to take the risks seriously.

Space heaters are selling out at local home improvement stores, including the Home Depot on Adamo Drive in Brandon.

"We had great quantities," said Michael Real, Operations Director at Home Depot. "We will be getting shipments of it by the end of the week."

Supplies of plant blankets or "The Plankets" are running low, too. "What you want to do ultimately is trap the heat that's already there from the ground," said Real, explaining how to cover vulnerable plants.

And for those really cold nights ahead, some homeowners are reaching for pipe insulation. But, for anyone buying a heating device, employees give a word of caution.

"These are things you don't want to fall asleep with. These are things that need constant supervision so you've got to be mindful with your loved ones around," Real said.

Take a space heater. Add a curtain or blanket. Give it a few seconds and your living room is an inferno. Last month, during the last drop in temperatures, a space heater fire caused major damage at a home in Valrico. And, in October, a space heater fire in Tampa was blamed for the death of 54-year-old Gregory Elledge.

"We did see with the last cold snap, a definite spike of those kinds of fires," said Corey Dierdorff, Spokesman for Hillsborough County Fire Rescue.

HCFR has some crucial tips:

-Always leave at least 3 feet of space around heaters.

-Make sure yours is up to current code. If it's not, buy a new one.

-Clean out any dust bunnies so they don't catch fire.

"A lot of times, people will try to hook a space heater into an extension cord and that's a big no-no or they'll try to hook it into a power strip which can overload the outlet, causing an electrical fire," Dierdorff said.

And though it's coldest at night, never go to sleep with a heater plugged in.

"Put some extra blankets on, wear a couple extra layers because we don't want you to wake up to your room on fire," Dierdorff said.

One helpful thing Real said you can do is to buy a plug-in timer. way, if you forget to turn off your heater before bed, it'll shot off automatically.

And, finally, if you're going to use a fireplace, fire officials advise you to make sure the flue is clean and open first. It's a good idea to buy a carbon monoxide detector just to be sure.