Space heater fire in Prince George’s claims life, puts spotlight on cold weather safety -- Gazette.Net


Prince George’s County fire officials are alerting residents to the possible dangers of heating equipment during colder months after the death of a 59-year-old Oxon Hill man who suffered severe burns after refueling a kerosene space heater indoors, which officials said resulted in a house fire.

Douglas Williams of the 5100 block of Boulder Drive in Oxon Hill was refueling a space heater inside his duplex home around 5:15 a.m. Sunday when vapors ignited, accounting for $50,000 in damages before firefighters could extinguish the blaze, said Mark Brady, chief spokesman for the fire/EMS department.

Firefighters arrived and found Williams unconscious, and he was taken to a hospital, Brady said. Brady said he succumbed to his injuries around 12:30 p.m. the same day. Williams’ wife, who had escaped the home, was also transported to a hospital for smoke inhalation and was treated and released Sunday afternoon, Brady said.

Firefighters walked through the Oxon Hill neighborhood Monday to distribute safety information.

“It’s a tradition the department established 25 years ago after a Thanksgiving fire claimed the lives of six children,” Brady said. “We go back into a community when the attention level is high. We come into a home, check the smoke alarms and offer safety tips, in this case, cold weather safety tips.”

Neighborhood resident Patricia Glover, 73, who lives one street away from Williams’ home, said firefighters left a pamphlet of safety information at her door.

“That’s good that they’re doing that. That’s really good. ... People need to be more careful,” she said, noting that she heats her home via an oil-based heating system that is regularly inspected.

Jennifer Black, 32, of Oxon Hill said she saw Williams’ home hours after it had caught fire.

“I saw the windows blown out and everything ... . It’s very unfortunate. Some things are just so unfortunate, especially when it’s so close to the holidays,” she said.

Williams’ family could not be reached for comment as of Monday afternoon.

Brady said when using space heaters, the department recommends “the unit be turned off and moved to an open air environment.”

Space heaters account for 25 percent of heating-related fires, and roughly 75 percent of fire fatalities are heating related, Brady said, noting that residents need to take extra precautions during the colder seasons.

“A lot can be attributed to people using [space heaters] in bedrooms near combustibles, and that’s when most tragedy occurs,” Brady said.

The fatal Oxon Hill fire was one of several county firefighters faced Sunday and Monday.

Around 10:30 a.m. Sunday, firefighters responded to a two-story duplex home in the 2500 block of Van Buren in Hyattsville, after a fire broke out in the home’s heating pump, causing flames to extend up the outside wall of the home and go into the second floor, Brady said. Fifteen occupants were displaced, and the fire accounted for $10,000 in damages, he said.

Around 6:30 p.m. Sunday, unattended cooking resulted in $50,000 in fire damages and five occupants being displaced from their single-story home in Forestville, Brady said.

Around 7 a.m. Monday, firefighters responded to a two-story home in Seat Pleasant where a fire had started inside the second-story walls and floors due to cracks in the chimney of a fireplace being used. The fireplace malfunction resulted in $50,000 in damages and two occupants being displaced, Brady said.

Monday afternoon, an apartment building in New Carrollton caught fire in the 5300 block of 85th Avenue where flames were showing from the top two floors of the four-story building. Residents from 11 apartment units were displaced, and the cause of the fire is still being investigated, Brady said.