Cold Weather Means More Fires

By Chelsea Bishop

January 24, 2013 Updated Jan 24, 2013 at 1:46 AM EST

Binghamton, NY (WBNG Binghamton) The cold weather has people racing to turn up their thermostats in an effort to stay warm.

The increased use of heating units could mean an increase in house fires.

Fire officials say they expect to have more fires in the winter due to a lack of knowledge about fire safety.

"It's expensive to heat homes with the energy costs these days and people will find ways to try to supplement heating their home," said Jason Ellis, Broome County Deputy Fire Coordinator.

Some are even heating their homes in dangerous ways.

"We've seen people trying to use gas stoves to supplement, which is very dangerous," Ellis said.

Space heaters are a popular alternative to expensive home furnaces, but are involved in four or five heating fire deaths.

The National Fire Protection Agency says the second leading cause of house fires is by portable heading devices. The NFPA says curtains, blankets or other flammable materials should be kept at least three feet away from space heaters.

Fire officials say the best way to prevent a fire is to ensure the unit is working properly.

"Whether it's a fireplace or an electric heater, they need to make sure that they've been checked," said Lt. Rick Tinder of the Binghamton Fire Department.

It's also important to check the unit's safety features.

"The electrical heating units now days have the tip over protection, if the heating unit falls over gets knocked over by a dog or a child, it goes off all by itself," Tinder said.

Space heaters should be inspected regularly. But firefighters have another tip.

"We encourage people to use heating systems within a home and not try to supplement if at all possible," Ellis said.

While precautions can be taken to prevent fires, accidents happen, Ellis said.

Fire officials urge residents to check their smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to ensure they're working properly, especially in the winter.