Albany --This first hint of cool weather has many South Georgians getting ready for winter.
Firefighters want to remind you that heaters and heating systems are the leading causes of home fires in America , and that now is the time to check your heater before you light that pilot.
A heater caused the fire that killed ten month old Rashawn Jenkins in his Cotton Avenue home in 2005. That tragedy is one reason firefighters want South Georgians to check their heaters before they turn them on for the first cold night of the season. Albany Fire Chief James Carswell said "Go ahead and look at it. Turn it on when it's not cold."
There were at least 21 home fires in Dougherty County last winter caused by heaters. Firefighters say the most dangerous time can be when you first turn on your heater after about seven months of inactivity. Chief Carswell said "Kids may have put toys in the heater, or dust collected. And they fire them up for the first time, and then there is a fire related to that."
Space heaters cause 74 percent of home fire deaths nationwide, like 71-year-old Marcus Harvey. He was killed when his space heater got too close to the bed in a travel trailer and ignited it. Experts say keep space heaters at least three feet away from other objects. Carswell said "What people tend to do is to bring the space heater closer to them, and when they do that, they cause a situation that may cause a fire."
Firefighters recommend you have your heating system checked before you light your pilot light or turn it on. Then you can rest easier that you have taken the big step toward preventing South Georgia's biggest home fire threat.
The federal Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates there are more than 21,000 fires each year caused of heaters, resulting in almost 300 deaths.