Cold Brings Risks For Shrewsbury Residents, Firefighters

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Firefighters respond to a chimney fire in Shrewsbury in December.
Firefighters respond to a chimney fire in Shrewsbury in December. Photo Credit: John Swinconeck (file)

SHREWSBURY, Mass. — With temperatures dropping again, many Shrewsbury residents may be tempted to light fires or use space heaters to stay warm. However, Shrewsbury Fire Chief James Vuona warns that an improperly used stoves, fireplaces or space heaters could mean danger both for residents and the firefighters who protect them.

Fires during cold spells are especially dangerous for firefighters who have to contend with icy conditions, according to Vuona.

"When you put water on a fire, the excess water has to go somewhere," he said. "It goes into driveways and stairs and streets — the places we need to be to fight the fire. We're creating a skating rink for ourselves. It's extremely difficult, and severe cold is the worst time to try to fight a fire."

In frigid temperatures, water will freeze before it can drain out of a burning building, adding massive weight to an already weakened building. One gallon of water weighs about 8 pounds, and the department can pump 1,000 gallons a minute into a building.

"Now you have to worry about the extent of the fire, and the potential for the collapse of the building," Vuona said.

"Whenever there's a cold snap, that's when you have people using other forms of heating" other than oil, he said. "There's been a ton of fires, and many of them are related to alternative heating sources."

Creosote can build up in a chimney that is not properly maintained or cleaned. If ignited, creosote can burn hot enough to crack a chimney and cause a fire to spread to the interior of a home.

A space heater should be used only as a temporary heat source and never left unattended, Vuona said.

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