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Cold night highlights risk of space heater fires

Temperatures in the teens means many will be cranking up space heaters, but fire officials are warning residents to use caution after a deadly fire in New York City.

TUNKHANNOCK, Pa. — Turn up the heat. Shoppers in Tunkhannock made their final purchases Monday, preparing for a bitter cold night. 

Lisa Tomlinson from Nicholson was eager to get warmed up.

"We're ready," she said. "I just went grocery shopping, got my stuff. Ready to go home and get cozy."

On a cold night, more people will be looking to get in out of the cold and into a warm, heated home. They may be using space heaters to get the job done.

Gay's True Value in Tunkhannock anticipates a rush in the coming days. Co-owner Doug Gay expects his stock of kerosene, propane, and electric heaters to shrink even more.

"Everything is short supply, it seems, this whole year," he said. "We'll probably have a problem with that by tomorrow morning. People will be calling."

But firing up those heaters comes with some risk. Triton Hose Company Fire Chief Eric Kukuchka reminds residents to keep space heaters away from flammable objects and warns against using larger industrial propane heaters indoors.

"You want to make sure that the space heater isn't near your curtains, near a couch," Kukuchka said. "Make sure there's not clothes around the heater on the floor."

Officials said the fire that killed 17 people in New York City was started by a malfunctioning space heater. 

It's a reminder to Tomlinson, who uses a wood-burning stove and a propane space heater in the winter.

"We lived in apartment buildings like our whole lives until we moved into our own house. I always worried about that," Tomlinson said. "Even me making the mistake or somebody else above or below me. My heart goes out to them, for sure."

There are other ways to keep it feeling toasty. Gay said you can keep heat in by weatherproofing or shrink-wrapping windows and covering up door thresholds.

"On my doors in my house, the same thing," Gay said. "First thing in the fall, I'll put that [draft cover] right down first thing."

If you still decide to crank up the space heater, fire officials said make sure your home is equipped with carbon monoxide and smoke detectors on each floor.

Check out severe weather tips on WNEP’s YouTube channel.