Space heaters account for 43 percent of U.S. home heating fires and 85 percent of associated deaths.

Keeping sufficiently warm during the winter months can prove challenging, particularly when frigid temperatures persist, as they have recently for much of the country. While portable space heaters can help generate heat, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is reminding the public that they do present potential fire hazards and must be used with caution.

According to NFPA’s latest U.S. Home Fires Involving Heating Equipment report, which was released today, heating equipment is the second-leading cause of U.S. home fires and the third-leading cause of home fire deaths. More than half (53 percent) of all home heating fire deaths resulted from fires that began when heating equipment was too close to things that can burn, such as upholstered furniture, clothing, mattresses or bedding.

Between 2011 and 2015, portable and stationary space heaters accounted for more than two of every five (43 percent) U.S. home heating fires and five out of six (85 percent) home heating fire deaths.

“Space heaters can be effective tools for providing added warmth at home, but it’s critical that people follow basic precautions to ensure that they’re used safely,” said Lorraine Carli, vice president of NFPA’s Outreach and Advocacy division.

Carli says space heaters should be placed a minimum of three feet away from anything that can burn, and must be turned off when people leave the room or go to sleep.

“Make sure children and pets are kept well away from space heaters at all times, and remember that space heaters should never be left unattended,” said Carli. “When you’re ready to go to sleep, it’s time to turn off your space heater.”

December, January and February are the leading months for home heating fires. The peak time of day for home heating equipment fires is between 4:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. (27 percent of fires), with another 20 percent occurring between 8:00 p.m. and midnight. The fewest fires occur between midnight and 8:00 a.m. (18 percent), but these fires caused almost half of the heating fire deaths.

“Put a Freeze on Winter Fires,” an annual campaign run by NFPA and the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), provides a wealth of information and resources to help reduce the risk of home fires during the heating season. Following are important home heating safety tips and recommendations:

• Have a three-foot “kid-free zone” around open fires and space heaters.

• Have a qualified professional install stationary space heating equipment, water heaters or central heating equipment according to the local codes and manufacturer’s instructions.

• Have heating equipment and chimneys cleaned and inspected every year by a qualified professional.

• Always use the right kind of fuel, specified by the manufacturer, for fuel burning space heaters.

• Make sure the fireplace has a sturdy screen to stop sparks from flying into the room. Ashes should be cool before putting them in a metal container. Keep the container a safe distance away from your home.

• Install wood burning stoves following manufacturer’s instructions or have a professional do the installation. All fuel-burning equipment should be vented to the outside to avoid carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.

• Install and maintain CO alarms to avoid the risk of CO poisoning. If you smell gas in your gas heater, do not light the appliance. Leave the home immediately and call your local fire department or gas company.

• Never use your oven to heat your home.