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Winter storm

When snow and ice accumulate on trees or when high winds blow, power lines are often damaged and entire neighborhoods can lose power. Power outages are a hassle at any time of year, but during winter they can be particularly hazardous. Homeowners, desperate to keep warm and to keep their water pipes from freezing, are often tempted to use unsafe methods to heat their homes while waiting for power to be restored. That is one of the reasons why there are so many home fires during winter months.

This fall, the American Red Cross launched a major new initiative to reduce home fires in communities all over this country. Here are a few tips on how to stay safe during a power outage.

• Never use a gas stove or oven to heat your home.

• Use generators correctly – never operate a generator inside your home, including in the basement or garage.

• Don’t hook a generator up to the home’s wiring. The safest thing to do is to connect the generator directly to the equipment you want to operate.

• Don’t use a grill, camp stove or other gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal-burning device inside your home, garage, basement, crawlspace or any partially enclosed area. Locate unit away from doors, windows and vents that could allow carbon monoxide to come indoors.

• If you are using a fireplace, use a glass or metal fire screen large enough to catch sparks and rolling logs.

• Turn off or disconnect any appliances (like stoves), equipment or electronics you were using when the power went out. When power comes back on, surges or spikes can damage equipment.

• Leave one light turned on so you’ll know when the power comes back on.

• Eliminate unnecessary travel, especially by car. Traffic lights will be out and roads will be congested.

• Keep your refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. Use perishable food from the fridge first, then use food from the freezer. An unopened refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours. A full freezer will hold its temperature for about 48 hours if the door remains closed.

• If it looks like the power will be out for more than a day, prepare a cooler with ice for your freezer items. Keep your food in a dry, cool spot and covered at all times.

The Red Cross can open overnight shelters and/or warming centers during power outages. When your home loses power and heat during periods of extreme cold, don’t tough it out at home -- head to our designated shelters until power is restored. Not only will our volunteers make sure you are warm and dry, they will also provide you with hot meals and beverages, a safe place to sleep and reassuring companionship. And best of all, there is never any charge for Red Cross assistance -- all Red Cross services are paid for by donations from the American people.

For more information on how to stay safe this winter, visit the Red Cross website at

Anna Fernández-Gevaert is the regional communications director for the American Red Cross of Idaho and Montana. She can be reached at

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