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10 die in structure fires in Ohio over long holiday weekend

An electric stove that warms cold days
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Officials warn that a lot of fires are caused by using space heaters. They recommend keeping such heaters a minimum of three feet away from articles that could catch fire.

Cold weather may have contributed to five separate fires that killed 10 people in Ohio from Friday to early Tuesday morning. The State Fire Marshal's Office says it's the deadliest period since 2013. Assistant Bureau Chief Brian Peterman says when it gets as cold as it has, people will sometimes turn to alternative heat sources.

"They can't afford natural gas bills, or electric bills, so they're using wood burners, they're using kerosene heaters," he says. "I think the weather has an effect on what we’re seeing when we see these fires in these numbers."

One fire in Newcomerstown claimed the lives of a family of six. Peterman says the cause is still under investigation. "There was, that we found at the scene … a wood burner was being used; kerosene heaters were being used; electric space heaters were being used."

Peterman says the preliminary search had not turned up any smoke detectors in the home.

State Fire Marshal Kevin Reardon says fires can be prevented with simple measures. "Economically? People are trying to stay warm. They're going to do what they need to do to keep themselves warm and keep their families warm," he says. "We understand that. We would just ask that people try to be safe and think about how they can minimize the risk."

Reardon says the deaths take a toll on families, communities and first responders.

"And the sad thing is we will find out over time that many of these fires were probably preventable. Probably preventable in some way, shape, or form. Especially the fires involving alternative heat sources."

Fire Prevention Bureau Assistant Chief Anita Metheny says a lot of fires are caused by using space heaters. "Keep those space heaters away from articles that could catch on fire. You need a minimum of three feet around the space heater to make sure nothing catches fire."

Metheny says smoking materials are also to blame. She says more than 20 people died smoking while on oxygen.

Fire Marshal Reardon says Ohio has had 151 fire-related deaths so far this year. That's the most since 2019, when 121 people died.

Bill Rinehart started his radio career as a disc jockey in 1990. In 1994, he made the jump into journalism and has been reporting and delivering news on the radio in markets including Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska; Sioux City, Iowa; Dayton, Ohio; and most recently as senior correspondent and anchor for Cincinnati’s WLW-AM.