Representatives from both Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services and the Austin Fire Department said residents should be cautious using alternative heating sources, such as space heaters, to stay warm amid the Austin-area winter storm advisory set to last until Feb. 2.

“Using alternative sources of heating can cause serious injury or death,” said Capt. Darren Noak, public information officer for ATCEMS. “Carbon monoxide buildup is dangerous because it is a tasteless, odorless gas. It can become deadly very quickly.”

Because of the dangers associated with carbon monoxide poisoning, Noak advised residents to not use gas stoves, ovens or portable grills to stay warm.

“We've even seen where people are using generators and cars in areas that are not ventilated properly,” Noak said.

Noak said to make sure to use generators only where there is sufficient ventilation to avoid hazardous fumes.

Austin firefighters are also warning residents of the dangers of using space heaters.

“Since this morning, we have responded to two fires that were both caused by space heaters,” AFD Division Chief Thayer Smith said Jan. 31. “They were simply too close to combustibles. One was using a space heater to warm a garage and another to warm a shed with a chicken coop inside.”

Smith said those using space heaters must keep a close eye on them and should not leave them on overnight unattended.

“We are thankful there were no human injuries, but there were several chickens who perished in the fire in the shed,” Smith said.

Although there were no human injuries, Smith said four people were displaced.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, residents should heed the following tips if they must use a space heater:
  • Keep the heater at least 3 feet away from anything that can burn, including people;
  • Select a heater with a thermostat and overheat protection;
  • Make sure the heater is on a solid, flat surface at all times;
  • Choose a heater that has an auto shut-off to turn the heater off if it tips over;
  • Never use an extension cord for the space heater. Always plug it directly into the wall outlet; and
  • Keep space heaters out of the way of foot traffic. Never block an exit.
“They are called space heaters for a reason—give them plenty of space,” Smith said.

Nineteen of the Texas deaths from Winter Storm Uri in 2021 were caused by carbon monoxide, and 10 were caused by fires.