Home and vehicle fire prevention during winter weather

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From extreme cold to heavy snowfalls, there is no escaping severe weather in Saskatchewan during winter.

With that in mind, first responders say a number of steps can be taken to ensure home and vehicle fire safety during winter weather.

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Heating equipment

Many people turn to alternative heat sources like space heaters when the weather turns bitterly cold.

Saskatoon Fire Department assistant chief Wayne Rodger said those need to be plugged directly into a wall outlet and not used with an extension cord.

Rodger said the danger is the space heater drawing more electricity than the rating for the extension cord.

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“These heaters draw a lot of power in order to generate that heat to warm our space,” Rodger said.

“We know that if you draw electricity in a greater amount than what the cord will allow for, it will overheat. And that overheat is the start of potential fires.”

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Another concern is the use of ovens for heating, which should never be done, Rodger said.

He said oven elements are designed to turn on and off as needed, and not continually heat, resulting in a failure of the stove.

“Which really means there’s some overheating in the components within the workings of the stove,” Rodger said.

“You’re drawing current or electricity through the inner wiring (of) that stove at a greater capacity and more constant need than the stove was originally designed for.”

Outdoor vents

Another danger can be found outdoors — snow and ice build-up on furnace, water heater, chimney and dryer vents.

Rodger said it’s important to check those for any accumulation and remove those immediately, especially with furnace and water heaters.

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“One of the byproducts of natural gas is water vapour,” Rodger explained, “and when it hits these really, really cold temperatures, it’s not allowed to evaporate.”

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Rodger said there is a hidden danger if blockages aren’t cleared.

“What can happen is it can restrict it enough that carbon monoxide will actually start backing down the vent or the exhaust pipe and then back into the home,” he explained.

“Once that happens, then there’s the potential for carbon monoxide poisoning.”

Vehicle block heaters

CAA Saskatchewan recommends plugging in block heaters on vehicles when the temperature is -15 C colder.

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Rodger said before doing that, check all the cords and ensure extension cords are heavy-duty, three-wire, three-pronged, and rated for outdoor use.

“We really recommend not cutting off the ground terminal and plugging it into what we call a lamp cord that doesn’t accept the three-prong ground,” Rodger said.

“That ground protects you from any shortages that may happen in the in the wiring.”

Officials also recommend covering the block heater plug when it is not in use, clean off the prongs on both the block heater plug and extension cord ends, and check for cracked or frayed wiring.

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Snow safety

First responders said another winter safety tip is ensuring house numbers are cleared off and visible, and walkways are clear of snow and ice.

Rodger said another way homeowners can help firefighters is by digging out the snow around hydrants.

“In the event of a fire in your neighbourhood, we readily recognize that hydrant and are able to use it without having to dig it out ourselves or go searching for it if the snow is that deep,” Rodger said.


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