Space heater fire kills 2 children


house fireThis case involves a woman who had two children and who lived in a two-story home. The woman purchased an electric oil-filled space heater for the children’s room in her home. One night while the woman and the children were sleeping, the space heater caught fire and smoke began coming from the children’s bedroom. The woman woke up and could hear her children coughing and the children were trapped inside the bedroom where the fire was burning. Several witnesses at the scene saw flames coming out of the window of the children’s bedroom and also coming from the roofing of the home above the children’s bedroom. Both of the children died in the fire. The State Fire Marshall determined that the ignition source that was found in the area where the fire started was the space heater. Plaintiff retained an expert in fire causation safety and thermal analysis for the case.

Question(s) For Expert Witness

  • What could cause an electric oil-filled space heater to cause a fire in a home?

Expert Witness Response

Expert-ID:

Electric oil-filled space heaters are popular because they can allow people to save money on their heating bill. If a person uses one of these heaters and turns down their central heat, the space heater can easily be used to heat only the rooms where the person needs heat. Electric oil-filled space heaters work by using electricity. The power from the electricity activates the heating element within the heater and this causes the temperature of the heater to rise. Most electric oil-filled space heaters are portable, which means that they can be moved from room to room very easily. Many people use these heaters specifically for heating the bedrooms in a house. One of the main dangers of these heaters is that they present a fire hazard if the heater is tipped over on the control panel side, face down. If the heater is tipped over and is covered with some type of combustible material, such as a bed sheet or clothing, the heater may start a fire. Usually, these types of heaters have a switch which shuts the unit off automatically if it is tipped over on either side. The problem is that this switch does not automatically shut the unit off if the heater is tipped over on its control panel side or on its back. Most of these heaters have a 180-degree tip-over switch and this switch does not automatically shut the unit off if it is tipped over on the control panel side. It has been shown that if an electric oil-filled space heater is manufactured with a 360-degree tip-over switch, this configuration will allow the unit to automatically shut off if it is tipped over on the control panel side. Since the cost of manufacturing this type of heater with a 360-degree tip-over switch is usually minimal (about 73 cents), the manufacturer should have used this type of switch to make the heater more safe.

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