A 13-year-old Oklahoma boy perished in a house fire Wednesday morning as he tried unsuccessfully to save his disabled father from the flames and smoke.
The boy and his father, James Cummins, 60, were in their rural Love County home when the fire broke out. According to the Daily Ardmoreite, space heaters may have started the blaze.
Officials with the Oklahoma Fire Marshal’s Office told the newspaper that the family had electricity at the time of the fire, but their propane for the double-wide mobile home’s heating system had run out. The boy’s mother and a sibling had left to buy more, and the family was using three space heaters to heat the home while they were gone.
Love County deputies and firefighters responded to the fire, but were unable to get inside due to debris and the fire’s intensity, Love County Sheriff Marty Grisham told the Ardmoreite.
“Family members stated the father was paralyzed, so the boy went to help him get out, and they both succumbed to smoke inhalation,” Grisham said.
Fire investigators determined that the fire started in the living room, but the extent of the damage made it impossible to say for sure if the space heaters caused the blaze, or if the fire was electrical in nature.
Judah Shepard, an investigator with the Fire Marshal’s Office, said precautions should be taken any time a space heater is used.
“They need to be at least 3 feet from any combustible material and not operated while plugged into an extension cord,” Shepard said.
About 25,000 house fires in the United States each year are attributed to space heaters, according to Consumer Reports. An average of 300 people die as a result of those fires.
The majority of those fires are caused when the heaters are placed too close to curtains, bedding or upholstered furniture.
Aside from keeping a heater at least 3 feet away from combustibles, the publication recommends always using a heater that carries a safety certification. Certified heaters have labels with the UL mark from Underwriters Laboratories, the ETL label from Intertek or certification from CSA International.
A portable heater should also have shut-off features, such as a sensor to shut the heater off if it overheats and a switch to shut it off if it is tipped over.
The heater should be placed on a hard, level surface and it should be kept away from children and pets. It should be turned off when the user leaves the room or goes to bed, and the home should have working smoke detectors.