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Those in Tampa Bay without heat struggling during cold stretch

A fire that sent one person to a hospital Wednesday was caused by a stove used to warm the St. Petersburg house. 

St. Petersburg Fire and Rescue

A fire that sent one person to a hospital Wednesday was caused by a stove used to warm the St. Petersburg house. 

A space heater placed too close to a bed sparked a second-story fire in Lutz. In St. Petersburg, a family struggled to stay warm by opening a hot oven, sparking a fire that injured a pregnant woman.

Long stretches of freezing or near-freezing temperatures happen so infrequently, Floridians can forget what it takes to stay warm. That means a run on space heaters at area retail stores, an increase in house fires and a drain on the area's power supply. Cold-weather shelters, typically for the homeless, are taking in people who have homes but no heat.

"I don't have heat," said Mary Burrell, operations manager for Pinellas County communications. "It's pretty common. A lot of these beach houses just have air conditioning and not heat."

Having no permanent heating unit in a home or apartment actually violates Tampa and St. Petersburg city codes, though complaints are rare.

"It's not in our top 10 issues," said David Yost, director of St. Petersburg's city codes compliance department. "The only way we would find that out that there's no heater is usually by a complaint via a tenant."

And some who do have heating units can't afford to run them. Local power company officials declined to say how many customers have lost electricity due to nonpayment.

"It has been trending up since we've been in this difficult economic time," TECO's Rick Morera said.

How quickly a home loses heat depends on the type of construction. Drafty Florida bungalows feel colder than an apartment surrounded by other apartments, said St. Petersburg Fire Rescue spokesman Joel Granata. He estimated a typical home will stay about 30 degrees warmer than outside.

When people start feeling uncomfortable in 50- to 60-degree weather, the 911 calls increase. Stove and oven fires, space heater accidents and even candle fires go up. When it started dipping into the 30s and 40s earlier this week, the fire department responded to lots of calls from people smelling the dust from the first heat usage in almost a year.

"We were going out three or four times a day just on those calls," Granata said. "The colder it gets, the busier we get."

Times staff writer Stephanie Hayes contributed to this report.

Those in Tampa Bay without heat struggling during cold stretch 01/06/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 6, 2010 11:04pm]
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