Last year’s tragedy highlights winter dangers |

Last year’s tragedy highlights winter dangers

On Christmas Day last year, a Glenshire woman and her two sons came home to a painful holiday surprise: A fire had burned much of the house they rented, along with many of their possessions.

The woman believes a faulty wall heater caused the fire – a tragedy that could have been prevented.

House fires during the winter holiday season annually kill roughly 500 and injure approximately 2,000 people and cause more than $500 million in damage, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.

To get through this holiday and winter season safely, there are several things people can do to prevent such tragedies, said Gene Welch, public safety and information officer for the Truckee Fire Protection District.

“One of our biggest causes (of house fires) is improper disposal of ashes,” Welch said. “Hot embers will live inside ashes for several days.”

People should place their ashes in a metal container with a tight-fitting lid. Ashes shouldn’t go in the trash until at least five days after they’ve been removed from the fire, Welch said.

Holiday decorations are another major cause of winter house fires.

“One of the big concerns at this time of year is candles,” Welch said. “People need to be sure they don’t leave them unattended. They shouldn’t be near drapes, and they should have a proper holder.”

Also, Christmas trees should be thrown away after two weeks in the home. Tahoe Truckee Sierra Disposal will pick up Christmas trees Jan. 12-16. Trees should be chopped into 3-foot sections, and all ornaments must be removed.

Tips for locals and out-of-towners

Visitors should start with the basics and know where they are, Welch said.

“We’ve had people call us from Armstrong Tract and say they’re at Donner Lake,” Welch said. “You need to have a clearly displayed address and know how to get to and from the house.”

Also, visitors and second homeowners should check their smoke detectors wherever they are staying.

“The first thing second homeowners should do when they get to their cabin is test their smoke detectors,” Welch said. “Then they should test when they go back to where they came from, too. They won’t hear the warning beep that the battery is dead when they’re away for the holidays.”

Another cause of death and injury in the winter months is carbon monoxide poisoning, Welch said.

“They need to look at flues for gas-burning and fuel-burning appliances to be sure they aren’t damaged,” Welch said. “A flue pipe crushed by snow from the roof decreases circulation, and carbon monoxide can slowly suffocate the people inside.”

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that can be detected by a portable CO monitor, available at local drug and hardware stores.

Holiday safety on the streets

In the case of an emergency, Truckee Fire paramedics need to access the scene as soon as possible, which means people need to make sure they don’t park in snowplow routes.

“With our quick-changing weather, people will park their cars on the side of the road when it’s dry out and think everything is OK,” said Truckee Chief of Police Scott Berry. “Then a storm comes along.”

Snowplows clear the roads all the way to the poles, and if a car is parked in the way it might get towed, Berry said.

People should also be aware that there’s a surge in crime and vandalism during the holidays, Berry said.

“Watch your valuables. Take your valuables with you when you leave your car – especially in the car, especially in the holiday season,” he said.

Berry suggested that second homeowners get to know their neighbors, so they have a communication network if there’s strange activity going on at a house while a homeowner is away.

With the upcoming storms bringing snow, Berry said he expects 35,000 more people to come to Truckee in the coming days, which might make things a little crowded.

“All we ask is that people be safe and have a little patience,” he said.

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