Batesville Police Department

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 15, 2011

BFD says be wary of aged wall heater

By Billy Davis
Two house fires in Batesville in 2010, and a third this year, were traced to wall-mounted electric heaters, according to the Batesville Fire Department.  

The fire department, hoping to prevent a fourth house fire, is warning residents about the heaters.

All three heaters were located in older homes built in the 1970s and 1980s, said BFD fire marshal Brett Childs.

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Two of the fires occurred on Everette Street. The third fire occurred on Noble Street.

Childs said none of the heaters were in use at the time of the fire. But he further explained that the heating element comes on when internal parts, which have worn down over time, trigger the thermostat.

“Even in the fully off position, it’s never off,” Childs said of the heaters.

He cited a published study of the electric heaters by aerospace engineer Dr. John Owens, now retired from Mississippi State.

Owens’ study pointed to a thermostat switch that depends on hydraulically actuated bellows to keep the heater off. The bellows expand with a rise in temperature, holding the switch open, but if the pressure is reduced due to mechanical wear, the switch can close and the heater begins to heat up.

Owens is also known as a seasoned fire investigator in the state.

In the three separate Batesville fires, a stereo, a large-screen TV, and a chest of drawers — all combustible materials — were moved in front of the unused heaters when fire broke out.   

Childs said homeowners should disconnect the electric heaters from the home’s electrical circuit. A second, less-desirable suggestion is to keep combustible materials away from the heater, he said.

The fire department can be contacted at 563-6612 with any questions about the heaters.