Space heaters are popular devices for a number of reasons: They’re small, cost efficient and can keep your family warm. But it turns out, many people use them incorrectly and in an instant, tragedy can strike.

Millions of people use space heaters to keep warm in winter. But according to a warning from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), space heaters are a leading cause of house fires in the United States.

According to NFPA, space heaters are small, but they draw a lot of electricity.

They stress the importance of plugging your space heater directly into the wall, saying that some people use cheap extension cords. The problem is that many extension cords just can’t handle that amount of electricity.

It is also important to keep your space heater 3 feet away from anything that will burn — best to do it in the middle of the room.

There are space heaters with an automatic shut-off switch in case the device gets too hot or is accidentally knocked over. But experts say even those heaters can be dangerous if used improperly, so you should still follow the 3-foot rule, and not plug them into extension cords.

It’s also important to check the batteries in your smoke detectors, and to come up with a fire escape plan with your family. If you don’t have one, learn how to set one up. There are several references that can be found online.

  NFPA’s tips for fuel burning space heaters:

–Use only the fuel that the manufacturer specifies, and the proper grade if the fuel is liquid.

–Refuel the unit only outside or in a well-ventilated area.

–Keep a window open when the unit is in operation.

–Newly manufactured gas space heaters have a mechanism that shuts it off if it detects low ambient oxygen. If your old unit doesn’t have this feature, replace it.

–Allow at least five minutes to lapse if your gas heater pilot light goes out, before relighting, and light your match before you turn the gas on to avoid a flashback.

–Never light the unit if you smell gas from it. Instead shut off all controls, open the doors and windows, and then call a gas service tech.

Remember, stay warm but remain safe!