WILKES-BARRE – Fire Chief Jay Delaney said more than 90 percent of Kim Walsh's belongings were engulfed in the fire that destroyed her Hurley Street home last Friday.
On Wednesday, Walsh pulled a hunk of charred and twisted metal not fully reduced to ash from the embers inside the scorched shell of her house.
It was still recognizable as a small space heater, shaped to look like a woodstove.
Walsh said a city assistant fire chief told her earlier Wednesday the heater started the fire that gutted her home and nearly took her life. Delaney confirmed a day later that the fire was electrical in nature and that firefighters are fairly sure it started with that heater.
Get rid of them, Walsh said Wednesday, standing by the charred heater that burned her home and an identical, undamaged model owned by her brother who lives next door. He's throwing the heater away, not wanting to risk another fire.
The (assistant) fire chief told me they're no good, Walsh continued. Get rid of them. People think they're safe but they're not.
Delaney stopped short of saying space heaters should never be used, but urged their owners to exercise caution and only use the heaters according to the manufacturers' instructions. The heaters should be safe if those instructions are followed, but that isn't always the case, Delaney said.
We have fires every year from space heaters, Delaney said. The directions aren't just there for no reason; they're there for good reason, to keep the users of these products safe.
In particular, Delaney said space heaters should be plugged directly into the wall, not into extension cords, and should be kept away from combustibles like couches, drapes and Christmas trees.
The fire chief added that space heaters should not be left unattended, and should be turned off before going to bed.
They're not meant to be a primary source of heat for the house, Delaney said.
Delaney also urged caution in using other items commonly used during winter that pose a fire hazard, including candles and extension cords, and to avoid using an oven to heat a home, which is both illegal and in the case of a gas stove can cause carbon monoxide poisoning.
Walsh said she won't take chances with space heaters in the future.
They're not safe, she said, looking over the blackened ruins of her belongings. Obviously.