Rockland County Director of Fire and Emergency Services Gordon Wren, Jr. said the space heater in an upstairs apartment was either placed too close to clothing or clothing fell near it, causing the fire.
"The Rockland county Fire Investigation Team worked with Orangetown Police detectives and Orangetown fire inspectors and concluded it was the space heater," Wren said "These devices are legal, but very, very dangerous if not used properly."
The fire started with a space heater in an upstairs unit at 623 Main Street, damaging buildings housing Roost restaurant and La Bomba Grocery. No injuries were reported, but the American Red Cross assisted 21 adults and four children that were members of the four families evacuated into the cold due to the fire. Three of the families had places to go and the Red Cross found emergency housing for the fourth.
"We were requested by the Sparkill Fire Department," said Carolyn Sherwin of the Red Cross. "We had three volunteers. Once we got there, the families were outside. We distributed blankets and comfort items for the kids."
Sherwin said the initial reports had them expecting even more people to be displaced, but the fire was contained quickly enough to stop more homes from being damaged.
"Initially, we thought it was all hands on deck," Sherwin said. "Luckily, it was contained quickly. We can't thank Sparkill emergency responders and the police enough for helping get the fire house open. It was cold last night."
Sherwin said she has seen many fires caused by space heaters or overloaded electrical outlets. The Red Cross recently posted winter safety tips here, including home heating safety.
Space heaters are legal, but the Red Cross suggests the following:
- Keep all potential sources of fuel like paper, clothing, bedding or rugs at least three feet away from space heaters, stoves or fireplaces
- Portable heaters and fireplaces should never be left unattended. Turn off space heaters and make sure any embers in the fireplace are extinguished before going to bed or leaving home.
- If you must use a space heater, place it on a level, hard and nonflammable surface (such as ceramic tile floor), not on rugs or near bedding or drapes. Keep children and pets away from space heaters.
He said he has seen many instances of people thinking they were using the space heaters safely only to have them cause a fire, a greater concern with more cold weather expected in the area. He added that fires like the one Sunday night, in the bitter cold, are particularly hard to fight.
"They are dangerous things," Wren said. "We've seen it over and over again."