Fire puts couple in need

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 16, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

Michael A. Brown and his fianc\u00E9e Beulah Lawrence lost their Woodrow Avenue home Tuesday night when a space heater malfunction released a burst of fire to gobble up the contents of the structure, leaving the couple dependent on friends for shelter and clothing. This was the fourth heater related fire in the city within the past week.

Following the devastation of watching everything they owned go up in smoke, Brown had a word of caution for owners of space heaters.


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&uot;Do not use them as long as I did,&uot; said 42-year old Brown. &uot;Go out and buy a new one. It will cost you much less than the experience of a fire burning everything you own.&uot;

He said the heater flame extinguished itself and when he turned the appliance on again, he raised also raised the temperature setting.

&uot;I didn’t realize that it was broken and kerosene leaked out around the bottom,&uot; Brown added. &uot;We heard a whooshing noise and the fire jumped out of the heater and got onto the rug and furnishings around the heater.

Brown said he’d never had problems with the space heater even though he’d used it for about 20 years.

&uot;It was stopped up with soot and I cleaned it by vacuuming it out, and then cleaned the lines out,&uot; said Brown. &uot;I thought I had it in good shape so that when it did get cold I could use it safely. I think the carburetor was releasing too much oil and it just burst into flames.&uot;

Brown said he and his fianc\u00E9e tried to smother the fire with towels but to no avail.

&uot;I told Beulah to get out of the house because I couldn’t stop the fire,&uot; said Brown. &uot;I tried to pull the heater with my coat to get it out, but I couldn’t because it was connected to the fuel line. I got it almost to the door but the line wouldn’t allow it to go out the door. The only thing I could do was to get out, too.&uot;

The $30,000 single story, wood-frame structure was gutted. Not only did the house sustain $15,000 in damages, but also, the couple’s possessions, including clothing, lies as charred ruins on the front lawn.

Brown and his fianc\u00E9e are staying with friends on Brooke Avenue. Friends have helped them with clothes, but they still need a great deal. Brown said that anyone who could help with clothing or furnishings for a new house should contact him at the home of his friends, Harvey and Patricia Knight at, 539-4450, or call Brown on his cell phone at 374-3627.

An employee of Planters, Brown said he is being financially assisted by co-workers in the tree nut (cashews) plant. For those who would like to help the couple as they recover from the fire; Brown wears a 38-32 in trousers, and extra large shirts. His fiance\u00E9 wears size 11-12.

Brown said he’s definitely learned a lesson with the use of space heaters, and he plans to learn more about the operation of the appliances before installing another.

Captain James T. Judkins, Suffolk’s Emergency Management coordinator, said every person using a kerosene or space heater should educate themselves on safety features and how to correctly use the appliances.

&uot;One of the most important things is to do all refueling outside the house, with the heater turned off and preferably cooled down,&uot; said Judkins. &uot;Also, get in the habit of moving anything that can burn a good distance away from heat sources by at least three feet.&uot;

When buying new portable heaters look for UL-listed models with automatic shut-off technology that stops the operation if the heater tips over.

Kerosene is a flammable fuel which must be used with extreme caution, and Judkins said it is important to use the type of kerosene recommended by the heater’s manufacturer. Never substitute another fuel for a heater designed to burn kerosene. Also, if fuel is spilled while filling the heater, clean it up immediately.

Plug a portable electric heater into a receptacle, not an extension cord, circuit are not overloaded.

Another danger associated with space heaters is carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, sometimes known as the silent killer. It can be caused by improper care and use of home heating sources.

&uot;There is no substitute for proper use, but every home with fuel-burning appliances should have the added protection of a UL-listed CO detector,&uot; said Judkins. &uot;Install a CO detector near sleeping areas to provide early warning if there is a serious CO leak in your home.&uot;

Meri-K Appy, president of the Home Safety Council, said more than half of American families are in danger of CO poisoning.

&uot;Odorless and colorless, carbon monoxide poses a very harmful threat to our families,&uot; said Appy. &uot;Unfortunately, only 35 percent of homeowners have a carbon monoxide detector in their home.&uot;

For more information on home heating safety, or CO poisoning, contact Judkins at 923-2110. He is available by appointment to address groups.