Extreme cold increases risk of deadly fire and carbon monoxide poisoning

By JAMIE  L. COSTA

Monitor staff

Published: 02-02-2023 3:49 PM

Deadly fires often overlap with deadly cold.

Home heating equipment, including electric space heaters, are the leading cause of fire and fire-related deaths during the coldest months of the year. The colder it gets, the greater the fire danger becomes.

With temperatures expected to be in the negative digits this weekend, emergency officials on Thursday urged caution and reminded residents not to operate gas or oil powered space heaters inside their home due to carbon monoxide poisoning and to keep generators at least 10-feet from all structures.

The Concord Fire Department will maintain their regular staffing numbers through the weekend and will be ready to respond to any emergencies, said Deputy Fire Chief Mark Hebert. 

“The battalion chief on duty will make the decision to call back crews as needed for more manpower,” Hebert said. “Outages are unpredictable but our biggest concern is residents’ access to oxygen and medical devices during power outages.” 

Residents in need of sheltering or warmth are encouraged to call 211, a state emergency access line that will offer assistance. Additional shelter information is available at www.response.epa.gov/ 

On Thursday morning at Concord Central Fire Station, state safety officials, including Governor Chris Sununu, Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Robert Buxton and Director of Weather Operations at the Mt. Washington Observatory Jay Broccolo, warned residents to take precaution with the freezing temperatures, which haven ’t been this low in four years. 

“This is New Hampshire, we pride ourselves on being able to tough out some cold weather now and then but the wind chill forecast is predicted to go below minus-40 degrees in terms of the wind chill across the state,” Sununu said. “We are taking this extremely seriously and this can become life threatening in a very short amount of time.”

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The lowest temperatures – minus-14 below zero in Concord – are expected Friday night into Saturday but the the high winds are expected to last longer. 

Those without overnight shelter in the Concord area are encouraged to visit the Emergency Winter Shelter at the First Congregational Church on North Main Street and the Homeless Resource Center and Friendly Kitchen during the day where hours of operation have been extended to provide 24 hours of warmth.

"Folks on the ground statewide are identifying their most vulnerable unhoused populations and notifying them of sheltering options,” Sununu said. “The coordinators on the ground know folks on a first-name basis and I’m impressed by the local level and their specificity. They’re doing a phenomenal job.”

Shelters throughout the state are at capacity but advocates are working to expand this weekend with an additional 350 beds statewide for the unhoused population and some municipalities are organizing with local hotels, said Chris Santaniello, assistant commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services. 

If power outages occur, Sununu said one of the top priorities of the state will be returning power to all residents as quickly as possible. 

Broccolo said anyone attempting to summit Mount Washington or planning to hike above treeline this weekend is risking their own life and the lives of rescuers and first responders

Above the treeline, temperatures are expected to drop to minus-40 degrees on Friday and Saturday nights with winds exceeding more than 100mph, he said. Snow is expected and visibility will be low. 

“The weekend forecast is gnarly, even for our standards,” Broccolo said. “We have limited staff up there that cannot help you and it will be difficult for rescue services to come out Saturday night. If you’re caught above the treeline, it will be a long time before rescue crews can get to you.”

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