Bracing for a cold blast, keep warm, but stay safe

Published 8:41 am Monday, January 28, 2019

Northeast Tennessee isn’t going to experience the minus-20 degree lows that an arctic air mass is expected to inflict on the most northern states this coming week, but when the weather arrives here mid-week, it will bring lows in the single digits and highs only in the mid-20s — frigid by anyone’s standards.
When the cold rolls in Tuesday, it could bring some snow. But it’s the extreme lows, not the possibility of snow, that should get everyone’s attention. The highs Wednesday and Thursday are not expected to get out of the 20s, and the overnight low is forecast to drop to 14 degrees Tuesday night; 8 degrees, Wednesday night; and 10 degrees Thursday night.
That’s extreme enough to cause real problems, and people should bring their pets indoors and make sure that exposed pipes are wrapped or allowed to drip slowly.
Cold weather means heating systems will be operating at their limits as they try to keep buildings warm. Wood stoves and fireplaces will be pressed into action and portable heaters will be in use.
All are leading causes for fire during the colder months, particularly when extreme cold takes hold. And come Wednesday night, most will see temperatures in the single digits during a multi-day cold snap.
Residents should make sure that their heating systems are in good working order and check on neighbors and relatives, especially the elderly, to make sure they have heat. And, no one should try to use propane — and kerosene-fueled heaters indoors. Those heaters could cause carbon monoxide poisoning, and their open flames pose a fire risk. Also, electric heaters should not be left unattended.
Heating system problems are the leading cause of fatal fires the U.S. Fire Administration reports. Half of home heating equipment fires are reported during the months of December, January and February. Some simple steps can prevent most heating-related fires from happening:
Many of the newer heaters have safety systems that shut them off if they tip over or become too hot, but older ones do not.
People aren’t as aware of the need to avoid overloading power strips or extension cords with heaters that draw large amounts of electricity, or to keep them away from flammable materials like drapes, bedding or papers.
Some steps to take to prevent home fires during this winter blast include:
• Keep anything that can burn at least three feet away from heating equipment, like the furnace, fireplace, wood stove or portable space heater.
• Have a three-foot “kid-free zone” around open fires and space heaters.
• Never use your oven to heat your home.
• Have a qualified professional install stationary space heating equipment, water heaters or central heating equipment according to the local codes and manufacturer’s instructions.
• Have heating equipment and chimneys cleaned and inspected every year by a qualified professional.
• Remember to turn portable heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed.
• Always use the right kind of fuel, specified by the manufacturer, for fuel-burning space heaters.
• Make sure the fireplace has a sturdy screen to stop sparks from flying into the room. Ashes should be cool before putting them in a metal container. Keep the container a safe distance away from your home.
• Test smoke alarms at least once a month.
A cold snap might not seem that threatening. But severe cold presents its own set of dangers and discomforts, and it makes sense to be prepared.

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