By Kerry Longobucco.

The colder weather is closing in on us in the Twin Tiers. As the temperatures drop -- the risk of fires rises.

Heating equipment is often to blame when a home goes up in flames. Broome County Senior Fire Investigator Jeff Winchell said the brutally cold temperatures over the past two winters lead to a devastatingly high number of fires locally.

But there are steps you can take to beat the blaze before it begins.

Fire officials say you should be on your toes when it it comes to the installation of chimneys, and wood and pellet stoves.

Be sure to have them inspected by your local code enforcement officer.

Maintenance is also key -- keep chemicals and anything flammable at least three feet from all heating devices. Use properly sized furnace filters, and change them often.

Having your chimney cleaned at least once a year is critical -- especially if it's aging, or you've had a chimney fire before.

"About two or three times a year, we go to a house fire directly related to a chimney fire," Winchell said. "When we interview the owner, they say "Oh, well I've had a previous fire before. I just never had someone inspect the chimney, we just relit it." That's a common theme we see here in Broome County."

Officials said people shoudl also beware of misusing electricity.

"Power strips are designed for low voltage appliances to be plugged into," Winchell said. "If you're adding coffee pots, microwaves, toaster ovens, high voltage appliances to a power strip, you are probably overloading your power strip and eventually, it will fail and cause a house fire."

Space heaters and other high voltage appliances should be plugged directly into a wall. Also, avoid running cords under carpets or through doorways.