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The first week of the new year and new decade has brought unseasonably cold temperatures to Harford County.

There were stiff winds throughout the day and evening Saturday and Sunday which made the cold more uncomfortable. Even though the winds had subsided by Monday morning, even a gentle breeze could amplify the cold.

Particularly affected were people who work outside, like refuse collection workers who in addition to having to deal with the cold, typically have to hoist more trash in the post-holiday time.

And though the weather outside may be frightful for them and others, that delightful fire inside many local homes is a reason house fires are more likely this time of year.

With high temperatures hovering in the 20s and 30s since Sunday and lows dipping into the mid-teens in the northern end, many Harford residents may have turned up the heat.

“Cold weather increases the chance of fires because people utilize their fireplaces and they utilize wood stoves,” said Mark Bilger, deputy chief state fire marshal.

Bilger said sometimes fireplace or wood stove ashes are not disposed of properly, which can lead to fires.

If a bag of still smoldering ashes is thrown away or left in a garage, it could start to burn and catch nearby combustibles on fire.

The State Fire Marshal’s Office recommends disposing of ashes in a metal container well away from the home.

It is also important to make sure wood stoves are properly installed and both stoves and fire places are cleaned once a year.

Bilger said failure to clean and properly maintain these units results in dangerous blockage.

Failure to properly check and maintain fire places and wood stoves can result in house fires, Bilger said.

Bilger said with the economy as it is, some are moving to alternative forms of heating such as portable space heaters.

Space heaters can malfunction or heat items in the house causing fire.

Bilger said it is important when buying space heaters to make sure they are certified. He said Underwriters Lab listings ensure that an electric or kerosene heater has been tested, examined and approved the equipment.

It is also important to take seriously the warnings that accompany these heaters. Bilger said many people aren’t able to afford the high cost of fuel oil and are moving to cheaper alternatives

Bilger also said when adverse winter weather causes power outages, open candle flames can pose a threat.

“They shouldn’t be left unattended,” he said.

He also mentioned it is important to watch children near candles and space heaters.

It’s also important to dress appropriately when venturing outside. Layered clothing and proper head, hand and face protection are a must in falling temperatures.

Playing it safe, both outside and in, has already become important in the Winter of 2010, which has started out on such a chilly note.


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