SAGLE — Selkirk Fire Rescue & EMS officials are urging residents to exercise extreme caution when using heating sources to thaw water lines afflicted by the deep freeze that settled over the region this past week.
There have been two recent crawlspace fires and several other close calls, according to Jason Cordle, battalion commander for Selkirk Fire. Propane torches and heaters inadvertently caused structure fires on Dec. 19, 2016, and again on Friday in Sagle.
A directional propane heater was being used to thaw frozen pipes beneath a manufactured home in the 100 block of Gun Club Road when the crawlspace caught fire.
“We contained it to the back of the home,” Cordle said of the fire, which caused heavy damage to a master bedroom and bath.
The rented home’s occupants were away when the fire took hold. Cordle said the landowner’s repairman was using the heater to try and thaw the water lines.
Directional heaters, also known as a torpedo heaters, can be useful in unsticking frozen pipes, although Cordle recommends that landowners place the unit away from the home and use stovepipe materials to focus the heat under a dwelling.
Open flames from heaters and torches mix badly with crawlspaces, which see little to no moisture and may be rife with flammable materials such as weeds, cobwebs, insulation, dust, animal droppings and other debris.
“It’s a pretty dry, arid environment,” said Cordle.
Heat guns and hairdryers can also be helpful in restoring flow to frozen water lines. Electrical heating tape can also prevent water lines from freezing in the first place.
Selkirk Fire doesn’t make specific recommendations on which heating appliances to use, although firefighters urge against open flames in crawlspaces. They also recommend being extremely vigilant during any thawing operation and to have a fire extinguisher at the ready in case a fire breaks out.
Functioning smoke detectors are also vital.
Alarmingly, the homes that were involved in the two most recent incidents lacked smoke detectors.
Cordle said residents who are without the means to install smoke detectors or change out worn batteries can contact Selkirk Fire crews, which can assist those who are in a financial pinch.
Cordle said the department receives grant funding to help low-income residents safeguard their homes.