Fire officials are bracing for an increase in emergency calls this weekend when temperatures dip to near record lows, the coldest weather the Tampa Bay area has seen since spring.
Lows are expected to be in the 40s and 50s, so heating elements dusty from lack of use will be back in commission, giving off what could be an alarming burning smell. It also means some people will turn to alternative, sometimes dangerous, heating methods to stay warm.
"We see people using portable generators and gas stoves, which release carbon monoxide in the home, or space heaters that aren't UL approved," said St. Petersburg Fire Rescue Lt. Joel Granata, referring to Underwriters Laboratories.
Candles and fireplaces that haven't been cleaned out also present problems, Granata said, noting that the city sees three or four chimney fires a year.
"Nationally and locally, the history tells us that when the weather turns cool, the number of residential fires increases," said Tampa Fire Rescue spokesman Bill Wade.
The cold weather is expected to sweep through the area Thursday night on the heels of a low-pressure system that brought much-needed rain to the area early Thursday morning. It was the most rain in the Tampa Bay area in over a month.
"We haven't gotten this kind of rain since September," said Bay News 9 meteorologist Brian McClure.
The high Friday is forecast to peak in the high 60s, with lows in the mid 50s, according to McClure.
It gets colder after that, with the lowest temperatures coming on Saturday.
Saturday's low in Tampa is expected to be 46, missing the record set in 1950 by six degrees, while St. Petersburg is expected to drop to 50 degrees. The record is 44, also set in 1950.
"It will definitely be the coldest for this season," McClure said. "People will notice."
Wade advised people to be careful when turning on heating systems for the first time this year. He said the biggest concern is in older houses and in homes that used additional heating devices, such as space heaters.
Fire officials said people should never leave space heaters unattended or near flammable objects, make sure that heating systems are properly maintained and that chimneys are clear of soot and functioning properly.
Times staff writer Emily Nipps contributed to this report.