With much of the country in a deep chill, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is reminding homeowners that heating equipment is a leading cause of winter fires, causing more than 66,000 home structures, 480 deaths and more than a billion dollars in damage in 2008.

The major culprit in these fires? Space heaters, according the NFPA. Creosote – a sticky, oily and combustible substance that builds up on chimney walls was also a significant cause, accounting for 23 percent of all home heating fires, four deaths and $33 million in property damage.

Although the peak home heating fire season is partly over, February remains a high-incident month.

“Winter fires are highly preventable,” says Lorraine Carli, NFPA’s vice president of communications. “Every tragic news story about a devastating winter fire is a reminder that simple precautions can prevent deadly consequences.”

Through their joint safety campaign, “Put a Freeze on Winter Fires,” the NFPA and the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) are urging homwners to keep heating equipment clean and in good working order, and to not place it too close to combustible materials, like furniture, clothing, mattresses or bedding.

For more information, visit: www.nfpa.org/winter.