The death of an elderly Steens man is a tragedy for his family, friends and neighbors – indeed for our community. Hosea Hughes, 77, was found in the rubble of his mobile home, which was destroyed by fire sometime before dawn Sunday. Although the investigation continues, Lowndes County Sheriff Eddie Hawkins said it’s likely the fire was caused by a malfunctioning heating unit.
Sadly, these kinds of deaths are far more common than one might think. While house fires can happen throughout the year, they become more common as the temperature dips. According to the American Red Cross, house fires increase between the fall and winter months with peaks in December and January, and the U.S. Fire Administration estimates that about 890 people die in winter house fires each year.
Many — perhaps most — of these fires could have been prevented. The National Fire Protection Association says heating equipment is the leading cause of house fires in the U.S. with 48,500 fires and 500 deaths each year. The leading factor in those fires is failure to have home heating systems inspected, cleaned and maintained. Faulty heating systems cannot only lead to deadly fires, but to carbon monoxide poisoning caused by leaks.
Home heating units should be inspected by a professional every year, preferably before the arrival of cold weather. The cost is about $100 when performed by a private HVAC company. Some utility providers perform inspections at a low cost, even free. For those who cannot afford a private inspection, we suggest contacting your utility provider to see what low-cost options might be available.
We also urge caution to those who may rely on space heaters, which is often the case for many who do not have central heat and air. A vast majority of home heating fire deaths (81 percent) involve space heaters. Usually, these fatal fires occur when space heaters are placed too close to flammable materials such as curtains, upholstery, etc. Faulty wiring on space heaters also leads to many fires.
Now that cold weather has arrived, we urge everyone to make sure they’ve had their home heating units inspected. It’s important also to check in with your elderly family members or neighbors to help them have their heating systems inspected. Ask if they use space heaters and make sure they know how to use them safely.
As we mourn the loss of one of our community members, let this tragedy serve as a reminder to us all to take the steps necessary to heat our home safely during the winter.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.