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Officials urge caution in wake of heating fires

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    Firefighters work to put out a fire at a mobile home at 1780 Route 22, Ghent, early Thursday morning.
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    Contributed photoFirst responders at the scene of a fire Christmas morning at Brown Crossings Road.
January 2, 2019 12:19 am Updated: January 2, 2019 10:31 am

Fires last week caused by home heating sources have Twin County fire officials warning residents to keep an eye on their heating devices as winter weather sets in.

Heating is the second leading cause of home fires after cooking, according to Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“From 2013-2015, an average of 45,900 home heating fires occurred in the United States each year,” according to FEMA’s website. “These fires caused an annual average of approximately 205 deaths, 725 injuries and $506 million in property loss.”

In Columbia County, firefighters responded last week to three fire alarms in three days set off by home heating sources. The series of incidents caused the Chatham Fire Department to caution residents on its Facebook page.

“Residents are reminded that in the peak of winter, please use caution with heat sources,” according to a statement from the fire department. “Please clean your chimneys, [and] have your stoves serviced and cleaned. You cannot be too careful.”

A pellet stove that wasn’t properly serviced caused a fire Friday at 249 Route 295 in Chatham, Assistant Fire Chief Eric Barnes said Monday.

Firefighters were called to the scene at 5:18 a.m. When they arrived, smoke was billowing out of the two-story home. The stove pipe from the pellet stove had disconnected from the chimney and filled the house with smoke.

“There were no working smoke detectors on the first floor, which allowed it to fill the whole house before the upstairs smoke detectors went off,” Barnes said.

Firefighters prevented a working fire by shutting down the stove and ventilating the house, he added.

“As the chief of the Chatham Fire Department, I see a lot of fires,” Chatham Fire Chief Paul Rideout said. “Most of them are related to heating sources in the winter. We recommend that homeowners be aware and have their heating sources serviced each year.”

Twenty-nine percent of the non-confined home heating fires — fires that spread past the object of origin — happened because the heat source, such as a space heater or fireplace, was too close to things that can burn.

In Greene County, a Christmas Day fire at 95 Browns Crossings Road in Catskill at 4:53 a.m. was caused after an ember from the fireplace landed in a flowerpot.

Homeowners Michael and Amanda Fleischer and their two children Tadhg, 4, and Isla, 2, escaped the house without injury. The fire caused minimal damage to the home’s window, fire officials said Dec. 26.

“There was no damage to the inside,” Fire Chief Patrick McCulloch said. “We had to take the window frame apart to make sure things were cooling down and the fire did not extend into the structure.”

It is difficult to keep track of the number of fires involving heating sources that happen each year as the number varies, Eisen said.

“This time of year, there is a lot of chimney fires or calls related to wood stoves chimneys and fireplaces,” he added. “Obviously, it is has gotten colder and people are using those more. Ordinarily, maintenance that needs to get done, people put it off.”

The Ghent Volunteer Fire Company was dispatched to a reported structure fire around 1:30 a.m. Thursday at a mobile home at 1780 Route 22, Ghent.

The fire started in the chimney from the family’s wood-pellet stove, Ghent Volunteer Fire Company Chief Anthony Brahm said.

The family, including three children, ages 5, 9 and 11, were not injured in the fire, but lost their home and everything inside.

“A mechanical issue with the chimney allowed heat and sparks to escape the chimney,” Brahm said. “These kinds of fires are more frequent during this time of year, but we have seen less of them over the years.”

Kinderhook Fire Company Palmer Engine & Hose Company No. 1 responded to a fire in the lining beneath the fire place at 9:31 p.m. Dec. 26.

It is unknown how the fire spread to beneath the lining of the fireplace, Kinderhook Fire Capt. Larry Eisen said Monday.

“In this case, there really isn’t a recommendation because it was nothing the homeowner did,” Eisen said. “But, in general, people should make sure their chimneys are cleaned regularly and they should make sure the lining the chimney is in good condition. They should have it inspected regularly. The same thing goes with wood stove. The pipe that comes out of the wood stove needs to checked and cleaned regularly.”

To reach reporter Amanda Purcell, call 518-828-1616 ext. 2500, or send an email to, or tweet to @amandajpurcell.