Published: Dec 14, 2010 7:22 PM EST
Updated: Dec 14, 2010 2:20 PM EST


FORT MYERS, Fla.-- You've probably already turned on your heater or space heater to battle the blast of arctic air moving through Southwest Florida. They may warm you up, but they also put your home at risk.

As temperatures dip across Southwest Florida, the American Red Cross urges families to be cautious when using space heaters and other heating sources, and to make a plan in case of a home fire.

Heating sources are the leading cause of winter fires, and increase during the winter months of December, January and February.

In the last 33 days, the Lee County Red Cross has responded to 15 home fires.  

Like many other charities, the Red Cross is stretching itself thin this holiday season trying to help families in need.

The group encourages you to use extreme caution so you don't find yourself in need of its services.

Heat sources such as space heaters, fireplaces or wood and coal stoves can pose a fire hazard.

To reduce the risk of heating related fires, the Red Cross recommends keeping anything that can burn such as paper, bedding or furniture, at least three feet away from heating equipment and fireplaces and to never leave these unattended.
 
The American Red Cross offers the following fire prevention tips:

- All heaters need space.  Keep all things that can burn (paper, matches, bedding, furniture, clothing, carpets, and rugs) at least three feet away from heating equipment.

- Never leave a fire in the fireplace unattended, and use a glass or metal fire screen to keep fire and embers in the fireplace. 

- Never use a cooking range or oven to heat your home.

- Turn off portable space heaters every time you leave the room or go to sleep.

- Have wood and coal stoves, fireplaces, and chimneys inspected annually by a professional, and cleaned if necessary.

- If you must use a space heater, place it on a level, hard and nonflammable surface (such as ceramic tile floor), not on rugs, or carpets or near bedding or drapes. Plug power cords directly into outlets and never into an extension cord.

The Red Cross is also asking for donations. To help, contact the Red Cross Lee County Chapter at 239-278-3401.