Barring war in the Persian Gulf, home heating oil prices should continue falling during the coming winter months, oil dealers say.

After soaring immediately after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2, heating oil prices have fallen by about 10 cents in recent weeks. Analysts attribute the reduction to a mild autumn that has resulted in abundant supplies.

The average price in the state last week was $1.20 per gallon, according to a survey published by the Baltimore Sun. That price peaked at just over $1.30 on Oct. 15 and hovered around that point into early December before dropping.

Unless fighting breaks out in the Persian Gulf, the dealers expect further price drops in coming weeks.

"There is plenty of oil available," said Lock Wills, president of Southern Maryland Oil in LaPlata.

Wills, who also is vice president of a regional trade association called the Better Home Heat Council, said the amount of heating oil sold in the region is down 25 percent to 35 percent this year because of the warm autumn.

The industry's inventory is about 12 percent higher than at this time a year ago, he said.

"My expectation is that if the {Middle East} situation does not blow up into a war, prices should come down to normal levels fairly soon," he said.

Nationally, home heating oil was selling at an average of 90 cents a gallon before the Iraqi invasion. Maryland prices tend to be slightly higher.

Rick Phelps, owner of the Carroll Independent Fuel Co. in Baltimore, said his company is charging $1.23 a gallon, down from $1.33 a gallon in September.

He said last week that he had been storing more oil than usual this year, but that since it started getting cold, "we've gotten busier."

At Catholic Charities Oil, which sells its $1.10-a-gallon oil only to low-income families, the cold weather and lower prices sparked a deluge of calls, said program director Mary D'Ambrogi.

"It is unbelievable," she said during last week's cold snap. "I probably have 100 orders and the normal is 25."

David Watkins, who runs Watkins Ice & Fuel Co. in Baltimore, said he planned to drop his price 2 cents to $1.08 per gallon.

Watkins said he is passing on the price cuts he has been getting from wholesalers.

"I'm making my regular profit margin . . . I am making a pretty good living right now," he said.