Fire dept. sees 50 percent increase in calls due to cold weather

The calls have ranged from house fires to burst pipes to slips and falls, and the weather isn't expected to get any better soon

By Danielle Battaglia
News & Record

GREENSBORO, N.C. — The steps people are taking to stay warm as frigid weather lingers in the Triad could be dangerous.

Firing up fireplaces.

Lighting candles.

Placing space heaters near beds.

All can lead to fires.

In the past three days, the Greensboro Fire Department has seen a 50 percent increase in daily calls, Assistant Fire Chief Dwayne Church said Thursday.

The calls have ranged from house fires to burst pipes to slips and falls.

And the weather isn't expected to get any better.

Guilford County is missing the brunt of a severe winter storm barreling down on eastern North Carolina and up north. Still, the area did not escape a bitter cold that is expected to linger through the weekend.

Early Thursday morning, the National Weather Service in Raleigh issued a winter weather advisory for Guilford County until 7 a.m. Saturday alerting people to the possibility of icy roads and wind chills between zero and 5 degrees.

Wind chills that low put people at risk of developing frost bite after 30 minutes outside.

Temperatures won't reach above 30 degrees until Sunday and lows will be in the single digits on Friday and Saturday.

Such cold weather often leads to more calls for fire departments.

"We normally do see an increase (in calls) in the winter months with any type of structure," Church said. "There are a lot of hazards in winter months and the last three days have been really bad."

Church's neighbor to the north, the Reidsville Fire Department, has also been handling more calls this week.

Reidsville Assistant Fire Chief Jay Harris said firefighters responded Thursday morning to a house fire he said was directly related to cold weather.

Harris said the fire started after someone tried to heat the house using the stove. But that person turned on the wrong burner and accidentally set on fire a pan of oil, which then ignited the kitchen.

"If it hadn't been for such severe weather they would not have utilized the stove for heating purposes," Harris said.

Firefighters kept the fire contained to the kitchen.

Some recent fires have been more serious.

On Tuesday, two people died in house fires in Clemmons and Greensboro.

Dorothy "Dot" Harris, 75, and her dogs, Oscar, Sparky and Button died in a fire at 943 Parker Court in Clemmons. Robert Graves Jr., 71, died in a fire at 127 Concord St. in Greensboro.

And a Ruffin house fire Dec. 29 hospitalized a 22-year-old baby and his 30-year-old father with severe burns.

Firefighters are still investigating the cause of each fire.

Though none have been connected to heating or weather issues, fire officials say they're concerned firefighters might respond to more fatalities or injuries due to the continued low temperatures.

Church said in a neighboring county he recently heard a family placed a space heater underneath the house to keep the pipes from freezing.

The house caught on fire.

Church recommends keeping space heaters at least 3 feet away from anything flammable, such as curtains, clothing or bedding. He also recommends not leaving a room without turning a space heater off.

People also should extinguish candles before leaving a room, he said.

And speaking of open flames, Church said fireplaces need screens.

"Certain woods pop and crack causing embers to jump out," he said.

Church said many people leave fireplace screens open or don't have them at all. If a stray ember landed on a cloth or anything else flammable the house could catch fire quickly, he said.

But fires aren't the only problem firefighters have dealt with in the past few days.

Both fire departments have seen an increase in pipes and sprinkler systems freezing.

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