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March 12, 2014

Officials note wave of house fires amid harsh winter

By Jessica Reynolds Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — A fire Tuesday morning in Chenango County left a family of three homeless, and was the latest in a string of local house fires in recent months.

Matthew L. Beckwith, Chenango County fire coordinator, said the Guilford homeowner looked out the window early in the morning after his dog woke him up, and saw flames coming from the side of his house. Guilford firefighters were dispatched around 1:30 a.m., Beckwith said, and did not return until about 5:30 a.m.

County records listed Gordon Shields as the owner of the home.

Oxford, Mount Upton, Norwich and South New Berlin fire departments also responded to the fire which, Beckwith said, originated in the chimney. One firefighter sustained a minor injury, he said, but the home’s three residents were able to escape unharmed. The house was a total loss, according to Ken Haynes, Guilford Fire Chief.

Beckwith said this was the 28th recent building fire in the area. In Otsego and Delaware counties, more than 23 individuals were left homeless from four other house fires that occurred within the last month, including one in Milford this week and others in February in Delhi, Oneonta and Cherry Valley.

Particularly cold temperatures this winter have likely caused many of these fires, Beckwith said.

“When it’s this cold, furnaces are being burned longer and hotter,” Beckwith said, “and then when there are warmer days, they are burned less and creosote builds up, dries out and then catches fire. There is no doubt in my mind that heating devices, from chimneys to outdoor furnaces to pellet stoves, have caused many house fires this winter.”

That’s why it is vital that homeowners have their chimneys and fireplaces checked regularly, Beckwith said.

Jill Deskins, Red Cross district program manager for Delaware, Chenango, Broome and Tioga counties, said the organization assisted 12 families in Delaware County and four families in Chenango County after house fires in the month of February left them with nothing. This is more than usual, she said.

“It is definitely devastating,” Deskins said. “It’s a traumatic experience for them.”

Deskins said concerned community members can donate money to the local Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, which is used to provide families with food, clothing, shelter and, occasionally, medical needs following disasters.