Defend yourself and home from an onslaught of snow | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Defend yourself and home from an onslaught of snow

John Pang, Fire Chief, Meeks Bay Fire Protection District
Special to the Tribune

TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. – Ah yes, Mother Nature can be the bearer of fun, and she can create times of havoc. The wonderful powder in November brought smiles to many faces, as did the did the bountiful rainfall earlier in the Fall. We might finally break the spell of the drought that has gripped Tahoe for most of the past decade – last year’s snowpack was deep, and this year has started off well with an abundance of moisture.

As for the havoc, the recent onslaught of heavy wet snow and rain not only creates some bad avalanche danger, it can create all sorts of hazardous problems for your house and health.

We all know that wet heavy snow (aka “Sierra Cement”) can damage your rails and decking (and your roof if you have an older home.) I’ve seen decks that were collapsed to the ground from the overload. I’ve also seen houses racked way out of plumb from uneven snow loading on the roof. Some of the more hazardous issues we’ve seen over the years:

• Crushed or buried chimneys and vents (furnaces, water heaters, wall heaters, fireplaces). This can cause a backup of exhaust into the structure and result in carbon monoxide poisoning. Every year, people die from this problem. If you can’t personally dig out your vents and inspect your chimney cap, hire someone – the cost will be worth it! Make sure the direct vents on the sides of your house are above the snow level also-these can easily be encapsulated and cause havoc. One year, more than 20 people were sent to the hospital when these vents backed up at a commercial lodge here at Tahoe.

• Leaking gas lines or gas meters due to an overload of snow. We’ve seen houses blow up during the winter from compromised gas piping or meters that leak. A friend of mine was killed when a portion of a city block blew up in Truckee due to a gas leak. Make sure you have an approved shed over your meter and dig out your gas meter and propane tank if you have one. If you smell any gas odor, call 911 and vacate the area.

• Dropped power lines. The heavy snow can pull down the electrical power lines and riser to your house. High winds can also blow trees through power lines. Live power lines on the ground are a definite hazard. Always assume they are charged and keep people away from them. Call 911 and report the hazard.

• Frozen pipes. While not always a “hazard,” when the pipe thaws, it can sure wreak havoc with your property, especially if you aren’t there to catch it early and turn the water off. If you leave your house for any length of time (i.e. second homeowners), turn off your water. Make sure you know where your water main shut-off valve is located, and ensure it works – old ones don’t always shut off entirely and water can continue to flow. Keep some heat on in your house if you don’t turn off your water and remember, not all heaters work when the power is off.

• Slippery roads and walkways. If you have old bald tires, or worn out, studded tires, get some new treads, or use your chains. If your shoes don’t hold on the ice, use some of the many devices that attach to your shoes to give you better traction. Accidents and falls can hurt, and are usually preventable … need I say more?

• The mounds of snow can bury your address – we can’t help you if we can’t find you. Please make sure your house numbers aren’t buried and are easily visible from behind the tall berms of snow.

By the way, if you do have to call 911, please let the dispatcher know which fire district you’re in – it will help immensely!

We wish you all a safe and happy new year!

– Meeks Bay Fire Protection District


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