Corinth fire

A furnace problem was blamed for this February 2008 fire in Corinth that destroyed three buildings. Extreme cold, as is forecast this week, can stress heating systems, particularly if they are not maintained properly.

File photo

The coldest weather of the season so far is coming this week, and that news is not welcomed by local firefighters.

Cold weather means heating systems will be operating at their limits as they try to keep buildings warm, wood stoves and fireplaces will be pressed into action and portable heaters will be in use.

All are leading causes for fires during the colder months, particularly when extreme cold takes hold. And come Wednesday night, most in the region will see temperatures in the single digits, with mercury dropping below zero in parts of the region during a multi-day cold snap.

“When it gets down below 20 degrees, that’s when they start to get stressed,” Warren County Fire Coordinator Brian LaFlure said.

LaFlure said heating season isn’t as problematic for fire departments as it used to be, as heating systems are more advanced and safer, and people are more educated when it comes to dealing with fire threats. More people know to service furnaces and to clean chimneys, and to check smoke detectors and make sure batteries are changed.

Holiday light systems are also not as troublesome as they used to be, with bulbs no longer heating up as they used to, and electrical components designed more safely.

“We still see a slight increase, but not like we did 15 years ago,” he said.

Heating system problems are the leading cause of fatal fires, but the U.S. Fire Administration reports that cooking mishaps are now the leading cause of winter home fires.

LaFlure said carbon monoxide poisoning has become more of an issue than fall and winter fire calls.

As more people add carbon monoxide detectors to their home, there are more false positives with the devices. But LaFlure said they prove their worth when they do alert people to potentially deadly levels of the odorless gas, which happens locally numerous times each winter.

Glens Falls Fire Chief Jamie Schrammel said the use of portable heaters has been more problematic for fire departments in recent years.

Many of the newer ones have safety systems that shut them off if they tip over or become too hot, but older ones do not.

People aren’t as aware of the need to avoid overloading power strips or extension cords with heaters that draw large amounts of electricity, or to keep them away from flammable materials like drapes, bedding or papers.

“One of the big things we see with portable heaters is using them properly, making sure they are set back” from flammable materials, he said.

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reporter

Don Lehman covers crime and Warren County government for The Post-Star. His work can be found on Twitter @PS_CrimeCourts and on poststar.com/app/blogs.

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