A Kennewick mother and son are fortunate they weren't asleep when a space heater left unattended near a bed sparked a fire early Tuesday, officials said.
The teenage boy had left for school about 30 minutes before the fire started. His mother was able to call 911 after smelling smoke in his back bedroom and seeing the flames.
Kennewick Deputy Fire Marshal Joe Terpenning said things could have been worse, because there were no working smoke detectors in the two-bedroom house at 1206 E. Sixth Ave.
"We're real fortunate we didn't have one or two fatalities," Terpenning told the Herald. "If this had come in an hour or an hour and a half earlier when people were still sleeping, we probably would have had a fatality."
The fire was reported at 6:30 a.m. When the first crews arrived on scene, two windows in the back bedroom already were broken and flames were heading up the side of the house to the roof, according to Kennewick Fire Marshal Mark Yaden.
Firefighters from Kennewick and Pasco were able to extinguish the fire in about 15 minutes and prevent it from spreading to the attic. Damage was estimated at about $70,000.
"Fortunately, nobody got hurt," Yaden said.
Investigators determined a blanket from the bed or some other combustible material likely got too close to the space heater and ignited. The space heater had been left on after the son went to school.
Space heaters are involved in 45 percent of all fatal home heating fires, and portable heater fires in homes peak in January, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.
Items too close to the heater result in about 52 percent of the fires, and 38 percent of home portable heater fires start in bedrooms, statistics show.
A three-foot clearance is recommended around space heaters, Yaden said. The heater also should never be used with an extension cord and should not be left on in a room that is unoccupied.
It's also not recommended to use space heaters while sleeping, he said.
"Space heaters are intended to be used for a short-duration time frame," Yaden said. "Just a few hours at a time, then turned off."
It's also never too late to check to make sure smoke detectors are working properly, he said.
The last fatal fire in Kennewick involved a home that didn't have smoke detectors and used space heaters.
Fire investigators were not able to definitively rule on a cause of the Jan. 23, 2012 blaze at 4815 W. Kennewick Ave., No. 35 that killed Elvira "Elvie" Pidcock, 65, but suspected cigarettes might have been to blame.
Yaden said the cause of the blaze was narrowed to cigarettes or the space heaters, but the lack of a warning from smoke detectors likely prevented Pidcock from making it out of the home alive. Her 49-year-old daughter, Aireen Upton, escaped the flames by jumping out of her bedroom window after she was woken up by Pidcock banging on her bedroom door, officials said.
w Photo editor Bob Brawdy contributed to this story.