Winter temps increase risk for heating-related fires

Staff Writer
Published: 11/23/2020 4:40:17 PM
Modified: 11/23/2020 4:39:57 PM

The COVID-19 pandemic has many people following strict protocols to protect themselves against the virus. But area firefighters say it is equally as important to take precautions to prevent heating-related fires as New England enters its winter months.

Increases in home heating typically spike the number of emergency calls made to fire departments, though there are pointers people can use to avoid departments having to make an unexpected visit during the holiday season.

Turners Falls Fire Chief John Zellmann said Franklin County has a history of “quite a few fatal fires,” including in Orange in March 2016, Greenfield in September 2016, Erving in November 2016, Warwick in March 2017, Leyden in June 2018 and Orange in October 2018.

“From here on out, this becomes our busy time for building fires, house fires,” Zellmann said. “We’ve just got to be extremely careful.”

He said fires often start because people are unprepared for or inexperienced with the heating source they’re using. He said no one should ever stack wood next to a wood stove or leave electric heaters within 3 feet of combustibles such as curtains. Homeowners should also ensure their furnaces are running properly and chimneys and fireplaces are thoroughly cleaned.

Zellmann expressed worries that unemployment and depression caused by the pandemic will result in people having become complacent when it comes to making sure their heating sources work adequately.

The chief also said extension cords are often the culprit of house fires in the winter.

“We all use them, but they can be overloaded real quick,” Zellmann said. “I’m hoping we’re not going to have a disaster over the winter this year.”

Like Zellmann, Greenfield Fire Capt. Dan Smith, a fire prevention officer, also warned against extension cords.

According to information from Sunderland Fire Chief Steve Benjamin and State Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey, Massachusetts fire departments in 2018 responded to 1,477 heating-related fires that caused one civilian death, nine civilian injuries, 13 firefighter injuries and $10.1 million in property damage.

“No one thinks fire will happen to them, but having working smoke alarms on every level of your home will make sure you have time to escape if one does occur,” Benjamin said. “Replace aging alarms — generally, 10 years for smoke alarms and five to seven for (carbon monoxide) alarms. Expired alarms cannot be counted on to alert you and your family to danger.”

Newer models with 10-year sealed, non-replaceable batteries are now required when replacing smoke alarms. After 10 years, the entire alarm needs to be replaced.

“Working smoke alarms coupled with a practiced escape plan increase your family’s chances of surviving a fire,” Benjamin added.

Cooking up disaster

Athol Deputy Fire Chief Jeffrey Parker said Thanksgiving is one of the most dangerous cooking holidays of the year. According to the National Fire Prevention Association, Thanksgiving is in the company of Christmas Day, the day before Thanksgiving, Easter and Christmas Eve.

“The holidays can be challenging (for fire departments),” Parker said.

Smith advises using tight-fitting, rolled-up sleeves while cooking because clothes that dangle over a hot stove can catch fire. He urges people to smother grease fires and avoid panicking. He also stresses to not leave any stovetop food unattended and never store (even temporarily) paper products on a stove.

Zellmann said deep-fried turkey has become a Thanksgiving favorite in recent years, but the cooking process can be dangerous.

“Follow the instructions to a T,” he said. “Those cause quite a few fires.”

Anyone with questions about home heating can contact their local fire department or visit

Reach Domenic Poli at: or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.

Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
Fax: (413) 772-2906


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