The light may slowly be returning to Juneau, but the cold will be here to stay for a while longer.
That makes it important for Juneau residents to be careful how they keep their homes warm, their water from freezing and Christmas trees from becoming fire hazards, said Capital City Fire/Rescue fire marshal Dan Jager.
“We haven’t had a whole lot of fires this winter, which I’m very surprised about,” Jager said in a phone interview. “I think people are just being more alert or vigilant.”
Here are five do’s and don’ts for staying warm — and safe — for the rest of the winter.
Don’t try to warm pipes unconventionally
Using space heaters or open flames to heat frozen pipes can be a risky proposition, Jager said. If your pipes freeze? Call an expert.
“The concern we have is people use creative means to heat a pipe, that can cause problems,” Jager said. “If not done safely there can always be a potential for some sort of fire issue.”
Do keep faucets open to prevent a freeze in the first place
“Just leave a sink faucet cracked open,” Jager said. “A trickle of water keeps the pipe from freezing.”
Don’t place your fire alarm in the wrong place
Having a fire alarm too close to one’s cooking area can lead to the alarm going off frequently, leading to people taking out the batteries or otherwise rendering the alarm useless, Jager said.
“We don’t call them false alarms, we call them nuisance alarms, because the detector is doing its job,” Jager said. “If you’re going to put in your kitchen, we like to 10-12 feet from the kitchen area, maybe closer to the living room.”
Do have fire alarms in the first place
“For any fire we go to, we’re concerned about smoke alarms activating,” Jager said. “Locally, we find a lot of people don’t have smoke alarms, or take the batteries out, or have them in the wrong place.”
In some cases, an insurance company may refuse to pay out on a fire damage claim if a residence doesn’t have fire alarms, which are required by Alaska state law, Jager said.
“They can deny your claim, and you’re completely on your own for damage,” Jager said. “It’s not a good idea financially to do that in addition to placing your life and your family’s life in danger because you don’t have the alarm.”
Don’t let your primary heat source become a liability
Wood or oil stoves need to be cleaned somewhat regularly so they don’t have their exhaust clog and cause a fire, or end up running inefficiently and causing problems, Jager said.
“With your heating issues, make sure if you have a wood stove, it’s cleaned properly,” Jager said.
For boilers or other forms of heat generation, regular service — Jager recommended annually — can keep them running efficiently. One that isn’t running efficiently may go outside the manufacturer’s operating specifications, increasing the fire hazard.
The fire department has chimney cleaning brushes available for checking out for free at the station downtown, Jager said.
“Check out for free, use for afternoon, bring em back,” Jager said.
Do keep anything else away from wood stoves or other heat sources
“Keep anything combustible at least 3 feet or more away from a heat source,” Jager said. “Usually, it’s blankets or clothes. There’s times when people have a plug in electric heater in their bedroom and it’s right next to a clothes basket.”
Don’t let your Christmas tree get thirsty
Trees, even dying ones like a Christmas tree, require a lot of water, lest they start a new career as a fire hazard.
“We don’t have a lot of Christmas tree fires around here. With that said, if you do have a natural tree that you cut down from outside, keep it watered,” Jager said. “The rule of thumb is a 6-foot tree needs a gallon of water a day. The pine needles once they dry out are highly combustible. They go up like a torch.”
Keeping open flames and heat sources away from the tree is also strongly recommended, Jager said.
Free Christmas tree recycling will be available at the Juneau Household Hazardous Waste Facility near the landfill at 5600 Tonsgard Court on Jan. 7-8, according to a news release. Trees must be free of all decorations including tinsel, lights, ornaments, and stands. They must also be under nine feet and less than six inches at the base. Trees will be used for trail maintenance at Eaglecrest Ski Area.
Do make sure you have a carbon monoxide detector if you use combustion indoors
Carbon monoxide detectors detect CO, which comes from heat sources that burn fuels to generate heat.
“It’s the odorless, colorless gas present in the air present from incomplete combustion. The only way you can detect it is a carbon monoxide detector. Carbon monoxide is really important this time of year,” Jager said. “The more airtight you make your home, the more chances these devices could cumulatively build up carbon monoxide in the house.”
CO detectors — and fire alarms — are available at hardware stores around town, Jager said.
Don’t run heaters off extension cords for extended periods
Extension cords are useful, but running a heater, which often comes close to the upper limit of the current a household circuit can put out, can create a fire risk, Jager said.
“Space heaters are pulling about 1500 watts. That’s about the max for a residential electrical circuit. If it’s not the right design for the draw, you can get resistance heating,” Jager said. “Extension cords are only for temporary use. There’s a lot of factors but it’s a bad idea to use it for that kind of purpose.”
Do have clearly marked house numbers
When there’s an emergency, it’s easier for CCFR personnel if there’s easily visible house numbers on a residence, in contrasting colors from the trim, somewhere where they won’t be blocked by snow like a mailbox.
“Make sure that you have very visible house numbers. The bigger the numbers, the better,” Jager said. “It’s frustrating when we’re on a fire or medical call and we can’t see the house numbers.”
• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or firstname.lastname@example.org.