Bitter cold temperatures and snow are hitting two-thirds of the country, exposing people to dangerously frigid weather and causing home heating systems to work overtime to keep everyone warm.
The American Red Cross is urging people to use caution when heating their homes in these cold conditions and offers way to stay safe during the deep freeze.
Home fire safety
Seven times a day, someone in this country dies in a home fire. Heating fires are the second-leading cause of these fires, which occur more often as cold weather sets in and people turn on their heating systems. The Red Cross has launched a nationwide campaign to reduce the number of home fire deaths and injuries by 25 percent over the next five years
Heating a home can be expensive. Almost half of the families in the United States use alternate heating sources such as space heaters, fireplaces, or coal or wood stoves to cut costs while staying warm. These supplemental heating sources can be dangerous if not used properly. The Red Cross offers the following safety tips on how to prevent heating fires:
• Keep all potential sources of fuel like paper, clothing, bedding, curtains or rugs at least 3 feet away from space heaters, stoves, or fireplaces.
• Don’t leave portable heaters and fireplaces unattended. Turn off space heaters and make sure any embers in the fireplace are extinguished before going to bed or leaving home.
• Place space heaters on a level, hard and nonflammable surface (such as ceramic tile floor), not on rugs or carpets or near bedding or drapes. Keep children and pets away from space heaters.
• When buying a space heater, look for models that shut off automatically if the heater falls over.
• Never use a cooking range or oven to heat your home.
• Use a glass or metal fire screen to keep your fire in your fireplace. Make sure it’s large enough to catch sparks and rolling logs.
• Have wood and coal stoves, fireplaces, chimneys, and furnaces professionally inspected and cleaned once a year.
Winter storm safety
Wear layers of lightweight clothing to stay warm during cold weather, as well as gloves and hat. Other safety steps include the following:
• Bring pets indoors. If that’s not possible, make sure they have enough shelter to keep them warm and that they can get to unfrozen water.
• If you lose power, go to a designated public shelter to stay warm.
• Avoid driving in sleet, freezing rain, snow or dense fog. If you have to travel, keep a disaster supplies kit in the car.
• Check on your elderly neighbors. Help those who may need special assistance, including people with disabilities and children.
• Before tackling strenuous tasks such as shoveling show, consider your physical condition.
• Know the signs of hypothermia — confusion, dizziness, exhaustion and severe shivering. If someone has these symptoms, they should get immediate medical attention.
• Watch for symptoms of frostbite including numbness, flushed gray, white, blue or yellow skin discoloration, numbness or waxy feeling skin.