During Winter Storm Uri our region, in fact the entire state, saw extremely cold weather and an unprecedented failure of our power grid. In attempts to find warmth, people resorted to warming up in their cars or trying to heat their homes with fire. Although these attempts to find warmth worked in some cases, we also saw an increase in carbon monoxide illness and even deaths.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a gas you cannot see, taste, or smell. It is often times called “the invisible killer.” CO is created when fossil fuels such as kerosene, gasoline, coal, natural gas, propane, methane or wood don’t burn completely. In the home, heating and cooking equipment that burn fuel are potential sources of carbon monoxide. Vehicles and generators running in a garage or confined space can also produce dangerous levels of carbon monoxide. CO gas can kill people and pets.

Follow these safety tips to prevent CO poisoning:

Never use your oven or stove for heating.

Never run a vehicle or other fueled engine or motor in a garage, even if the garage doors are open.

Never use a charcoal grill, hibachi, lantern or portable camping stove inside a home, tent or camper.

Carbon monoxide alarms provide early warning of carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide alarms are readily available at your local hardware store or even on Amazon with a cost of approximately $20-$30. Here are some safety tips regarding CO alarms:

  • When choosing a CO alarm, make sure it is listed by a qualified testing laboratory.
  • CO alarms should be installed in a central location outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home.
  • Test CO alarms at least once a month; replace them according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

If a CO alarm sounds, immediately move to a fresh air location outdoors or by an open window or door. Make sure everyone inside the home is accounted for. Call for help from a fresh air location and stay there until emergency personnel declare that it is safe to re-enter the home.

Because CO is an odorless gas, it is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of CO poisoning. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most common symptoms of CO poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain and confusion. CO symptoms are often described as “flu-like.” If you breathe in a lot of CO it can make you pass out or kill you. This is why it is extremely important to have a CO alarm in your home. They provide the earliest warning signs that there could be problem.

Along with carbon monoxide safety, it is also important to know how to safely warm your home. Heating is the second leading cause of home fires and home fire injuries, and the third leading cause of home fire deaths. Half of all home heating equipment fires are reported during the months of December, January and February. To prevent a home heating fire, follow these fire safety tips:

  • All heaters need space. Keep anything that can burn at least three feet away from heating equipment.
  • Turn heaters off when you go to be or leave the room.
  • Plug space heaters directly into a wall outlet and never into an extension cord or power strip.

The Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office is committed to providing you the most current and relevant safety information. We hope we never have to experience an extended period of below freezing temperatures, but if we do, we hope you follow the carbon monoxide and fire safety tips. Your health and safety matter to each and every one of our staff. For more information, visit hcfmo.net or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or YouTube.