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Many winter fires caused by temporary heating sources

Syracuse Fire Department
The Syracuse Fire Department at a fire on Valley Drive.

Several fires in Syracuse since the beginning of January have resulted in two recent fatalities, including that of a 13-year-old girl. One reason why more fires tend to occur during the winter season is because of makeshift heating sources.

Investigators said they are confident that unattended candles started the fire in Syracuse that resulted in the death of a 13-year-old girl. There was no heat or power in the home. Last week, a 31-year-old woman died after a fire was believed to have been started at or near the stove in the early morning.

Deputy Chief Steve Cavuto of the Syracuse Fire Department said it is not unheard of for people in poverty to be without heat or lights. He said many fires during the winter are caused by overextending or not monitoring temporary heating sources.

“When a little temporary space heater is pressed into being your only heat, when you’re heating with an open flame candle or stove, you’re pushing the appliances harder than they’re designed to be pushed," Cavuto said. "You’re creating an unsafe environment for you and your family. You may think that you're gaining some comfort, you're also putting yourself at real risk. There are a lot of fires caused by careless handling of heating products.”

Even small fires can be fatal because they can generate a large amount of toxic smoke. Cavuto said he has seen fires caused by overworked chimneys, portable heaters too close to a bed, and people who have tried to unthaw their pipes with torches. He said during the winter months there could be slower response times in rural areas due to the weather.

"There are people whose houses are closed up so the smoke doesn't get out to alert their neighbors," Cavuto said. "One of the problems with fire is that it generates carbon monoxide in the smoke. Carbon monoxide is an intoxicant. It disables people. They're unable to make good decisions and they can't fend for themselves."

He credited working smoke detectors for alerting and saving the lives of three people in one of the recent Syracuse fires and 15 people in the other. Some counties offer free smoke detectors to people who cannot afford them.