Mountain home safety in the Sierra’s high country

Submitted to the Sierra Sun
Workers dig into a gas leak at Rideout Community Center Monday, which displaced Tahoe Lake Elementary School students.
Courtesy Placer County Sheriff’s Office

With the seemingly never-ending series of storms dumping feet of snow in Tahoe, homeowners are reminded to be vigilant with their properties to ensure the safety of residents and guests.

According to a news release, last weekend was a busy one for North Tahoe Fire and Meeks Bay Fire crews, who responded to a structure fire in Meeks Bay that resulted from an overheated firebox. Multiple late-night calls resulted from carbon monoxide alarm activation. In some instances, crews found the structures’ generators, activated due to a regional power outage, were entombed in deep snow from roof shed, resulting in the generators charging the structures with considerable levels of carbon monoxide gas.

Another late-night call sent crews to a condo unit charged with high levels of carbon monoxide gas due to blocked and malfunctioning exhaust on the unit’s hydronic heating system. In all cases, if it were not for functioning alarms, the colorless-odorless gas could have easily gone undetected as the occupants slept, causing death or injury.

Sadly, crews also responded to a small child crushed and trapped under a tree trunk sized icicle weighing over 150 pounds. Firefighter-paramedics had to use mechanical advantage techniques, shoring and cribbing to extricate the child. The child was transported to Tahoe Forest Hospital ER with leg injuries.

On Monday, Tahoe Lake Elementary School students were diverted to North Tahoe High School due to a gas leak resulting from a pipe that snapped under the weight of ice and snow.

What can property owners, residents do?

“Do not neglect your mountain home,” said North Tahoe Fire Chief Michael Schwartz. “Mountain homes require strict maintenance, especially during heavy winters.”

Schwartz provided these tips for keeping mountain homes safe in the winter.

Maintain your structure’s roof systems. Safely mitigate roof shed hazards, excessive snow build-up and hazardous icicle formation, and keep people and pets clear of roof shed hazard areas.

Clean and inspect chimney systems. Ensure they are clear of snow, ice and creosote build-up and that they have not been damaged by snow shed.

Inspect all gas burning appliances and generators to ensure proper combustion ventilation and exhaust systems, and make sure there are functioning CO alarms in the home. Clear gas lines and meters of snow and ice.

Inspect all appliance exhaust systems to ensure they have not become blocked or damaged by snow, ice, roof snow shed, forest litter debris or nesting rodents.

See this story at for helpful tipsheets for vacation homeowners and for full-time residents on best practices to keep your home safe during winter storms.

Source: North Tahoe and Meeks Bay fire protection districts

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