Low temperatures concern fire officials

With the region's cold spell expected to last through the weekend, fire officials are urging people to use common sense when using heating devices.

"When the weather is like this, we do see more fires," said Norwich Fire Chief Kenneth Scandariato. "We have people using heating devices in the way they were not designed, and that's extremely dangerous."

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, an estimated 900 portable heater fires in residential buildings are reported each year and cause 70 deaths, 150 injuries and $53 million in property loss.

The federal agency said portable heater fires in homes peak in January and more than half of those fires occur because the heaters are placed too close to items that can burn.

Scandariato said firefighters recently stopped a fire in an apartment where a kerosene heater was being used next to a Christmas tree.

"You want to make sure that there is nothing combustible near the heating source," he said. "It's also important to make sure that smoke detectors are working."

Groton City Fire Chief Nicholas DeLia said he has seen people use stoves or hibachi grills in garages to stay warm, which can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.

He said the gas is odorless and tasteless, and people often don't realize that there is a problem until they start to fall ill.

DeLia said people are also using fireplaces without ensuring that they are in proper working order.

"As people try to make it through the cold cycle, they revert to things that they normally would not do," he said.

Tim Morrin, meteorologist and observation program leader at the National Weather Service, said the temperature today and Saturday will be in the 20s, but with the wind chill, it could feel more like 5 below zero.

Morrin said snow is expected tonight, but he doesn't expect more than 1 to 2 inches.

Temperatures should climb into the mid-30s on Monday and the mid-40s by Wednesday.

Morrin said cold air from the arctic is draining into the region, making it unseasonably cold. The average temperature for this time of year is typically 36 degrees.

Scandariato said the key to staying safe and warm, especially during the cold spell, is to understand how to use heating devices properly.

The U.S. Fire Administration recommends that a 3-foot safety zone be kept around portable heaters.

For more tips on how to safely use portable heating devices, visit www.usfa.fema.gov.


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