October 25, 2021

Kerosene heater suspected in fire

Case of Maple Avenue blaze in Cortland remains under investigation

Todd R. McAdam/managing editor

Cortland fire Deputy Chief Rich Allen examines on Tuesday the wreckage and a burned kerosene space heater at the back of 35 Maple Ave. A fire Monday night forced the occupants of two apartments from their homes, and caused third-degree burns to one of the residents.

A kerosene heater is the likely cause of a fire Monday night at 35 Maple Ave., Cortland firefighters said, but the cause remains under investigation, even as one of the occupants suffered third-degree burns.

Firefighters were called about 7:30 to the scene, arriving three minutes later to find the back of the building on fire, extending into the attic, Fire Chief Wayne Friedman said Tuesday in a news release.

“I assume it (space heater) was to augment heat,” Friedman said. “It caught fire and the first floor occupant tried to carry it outside while it was on fire. He got it to the back step and dropped it, or it fell, and started burning the steps and the walls and up to the second floor and into the attic.”

Kerosene heaters are legal in multifamily homes but occupants need to follow manufacturer recommendations for use and installation, meaning occupants should not fill the kerosene heater in the home, Friedman said.

“We believe he was filling it inside, but we are not positive,” Friedman said.

All four occupants had escaped before firefighters arrived, he said, and the fire was brought under control in less than an hour, and all units were back in service by midnight.

Blayke Austen-Hines was awarded the Hydrant Helper award by the Cortland Youth Bureau for keeping the fire hydrant clear of snow on Maple Avenue, said Jesse Abbott, Cortland’s community policing officer.

Without his help, the fire could have been more devastating.

One occupant was taken to the Upstate University Hospital burn unit in Syracuse with burns. No firefighters were injured.

“The excessive winds and cold temperature made fighting the fire very difficult,” Friedman said. The temperature was 19 degrees, and 24 mph winds created a wind chill factor of about 1 degree.

The attic and second floor saw significant fire damage, he said, with water damage through the entire structure, which was deemed uninhabitable. Occupants were being helped by the American Red Cross.

The property, sold in January, is salvageable, Friedman said. “If they do some work on the second floor and put a new roof on it, it’s not going to be a burnout total loss.”

Firefighters from Homer and Cortlandville also responded, as did the city police department and Cortland County Fire Coordinators Office.

The National Fire Protection Association reports that 81% of all home heating fire deaths involve space heaters.

To avoid fires caused by kerosene heaters, the Insurance Information Institute recommends:

• Placing heaters several feet away from furniture, curtains, bedding and other combustible materials.

• Keeping kerosene heater out of rooms with flammable solvents or oils.

• Following the device’s safety instructions to avoid fires, explosions, burns, asphyxiation and indoor air pollution.