House fires more common in winter, officials say

Nearly 30 families in the Cincinnati-Dayton region have been displaced by fires since the beginning of this year, and Red Cross officials say many of those fires resulted from people using dangerous alternative heating sources to stay warm.

Already two people have died in house fires in Dayton, and Red Cross workers have assisted 19 families displaced by fires in Montgomery, Preble and Green counties since Jan. 1. In Butler County, officials say Red Cross workers have helped 10 families who have been burned out of their homes.

This time of year is considered “fire season” because of the number of fire calls the Red Cross and local fire departments respond to. As temperatures drop, people look for all sorts of different ways to heat their homes. And with below zero wind chills predicted for the next two days and a wind chill advisory issued by the National Weather Service, local fire officials and the Red Cross say they want to remind people about the dangers alternative heating sources such as space heaters can present and provide tips on how to protect their homes and families while trying to stay warm.

“Every winter from October until the end of March, we see double the fires that we do for the rest of the year due to alternative heating sources,” said Maria Carroll, disaster program specialist with the Dayton Red Cross.

As part of the Red Cross’ Home Fire Preparedness Campaign, agency workers and Xenia Fire Department are partnering to go door to door in Xenia in April to get the word out about home fire fatalities and casualties, installing smoke detectors, replacing smoke detector batteries, and offering education on other seasonal hazards, Carroll said. The campaign has already produced positive results in Trotwood, where officials canvassed this past fall, she said.

Carroll was among the case workers who responded to a fatal fire in the 100 block of North Kilmer Street in Dayton on Jan. 22, where firefighters found the remains of a four-month-old boy inside the burned home. Education is the key to avoiding tragedy, she said.

“It was really hard to go out to those scenes knowing that we were going to approach a family that has just lost a loved one,” she said.

Middletown firefighters report they’ve responded to 10 fires so far this year, two families have been displaced. While in Hamilton fire officials say they’ve extinguished seven structure fires in 2015, Fire Chief Steve Dawson says four people were displaced.

Middletown firefighters report they’ve responded to 10 fires so far this year with two families having been displaced. And in Hamilton, fire officials report seven structure fires in 2015 with four families displaced.

Fire Marshal Bob Hess, of the Middletown Division of Fire, said his department sees a 10 to 20 percent increase in calls for structure fires during the winter. Hess said he’s seen people take some ill-advised risks in order to drive away the cold.

“We’ve been at many residences where people are using their stoves or ovens,” he said. “The (oven) door is open, set at 500 degrees and heating their home.”

Hess said this is particularly dangerous because stoves and ovens can emit sparks because of food left in them and that could start a fire. He said firefighters also see a number of fires cause by electric space heaters and kerosene heaters.

“People store combustibles too close to them,” Hess said, adding that people should keep blankets, clothes and other flammable materials at least three to six feet away from space heaters. “They can be used provided they’re plugged directly into the outlet.”

Candles and open propane heaters also should not be used to stay warm, Hess said. Safety officials also urge people to make sure they have working smoke detectors, and carbon monoxide detectors.

“Also have your furnace checked by a licensed contractor,” said Hess.

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