HARLINGEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Maria Yanez, a Harlingen resident who has been living in her home for over 17 years, was sleeping in her home when she awoke to raging flames at 5 a.m. Christmas morning.

The structural fire took all of Maria’s belongings, which included her six Chihuahuas that were trapped in the home. 

Yanez is thankful she and her two sons survived and escaped unharmed, but she is now trying to raise awareness in hopes her experience will help others. 

Space heaters that bring warmth to many homes this season can potentially cause life-threatening injuries if not used properly, experts advise.

Weslaco fire prevention inspector Jesse Valderas told ValleyCentral that there are many ways to create a structural fire, but space heaters are a leading cause of many house fires.

“Space heaters are a big part of structure fires especially this time of year,” Valderas said. “Just the placement of them and the connection of them so you want to try and keep them at least three feet away from any combustible materials.”

Valderas urges the community to be observant of any household items that radiate heat or require an outlet, including heat lamps that would typically be used for animals.