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High Sierra residents and businesses urged to stay snow safe this winter season

February 04, 2016

With the potential for snow buildup on buildings and utility systems, Placer County public safety agencies are advising High Sierra residents and businesses to monitor buildings, propane tanks and natural gas lines for signs of excessive loading due to heavy snow.

Roof vents, chimneys and flues should be monitored for blockage due to snow buildup. These systems need unobstructed access to outside air to properly ventilate. Blockages can cause carbon monoxide to backup in buildings. The heavy snow may also cause chimneys to shift, causing them to crumble or fall.

Particular attention should be paid to buildings constructed before Placer County adopted snow load standards in the High Sierra in the early 1960s. While construction standards since that time consider average snow accumulation, exceptional snow accumulation may exceed design limits creating a potential risk.

Residents should properly care for propane tanks and natural gas lines because deep snowpack can damage them and cause leaks.

“When in doubt, have a qualified professional check it out,” said Tim Wegner, Placer County chief building official. “Anyone who smells propane or natural gas inside or outside a building should call 911 immediately. They also should avoid smoking, starting engines or motors, turning on cooking appliances, using heating-air conditioning systems or using other ignition sources."

Heavy snow danger signs include:

  • Visual deformation or sagging of beams and other parts of a building’s structural support system;
  • Newly developed cracks, particularly ones that appear above windows or doors and where beams and other support structures are located. Minor cracks that expand or contract could be indications of building movement;
  • Doors and windows that suddenly become significantly harder to open or do not open at all, a sign that a building is potentially settling;
  • Water leaks inside buildings;
  • Buckling of interior or exterior siding and finishes, which may be a symptom of settling;
  • Sprinkler heads being pushed down below ceiling levels.

If there is any question about the integrity of a roof in such extreme snow conditions then the building or area should be evacuated until professional advice can be sought.

Residents are discouraged from trying to clear roofs when the snow loads are heavy. Potential dangers include injuries caused by falling snow; roof damage caused by removing snow from some areas, but leaving heavy snow loads in others; and electrical hazards from coming into contact with overhead power lines.

Residents concerned about the snow loads on roofs are encouraged to seek the advice of California-licensed roofing or general contractors or California-registered engineers.

For propane questions, contact either the propane suppliers or local fire agencies. For natural gas questions, contact suppliers or California-licensed plumbing or mechanical contractors.

Safety tips for the proper care of propane tanks during severe weather are available on the Placer County website. The website also contains advice for natural gas users to follow when they smell gas odors.

Placer County recommends that residents share their contact information, including home and cell phone numbers, with gas suppliers, homeowner associations and neighbors. In a gas emergency, it is important that emergency personnel be able to contact affected property owners.

Operating generators during power outages and alternative heating can also create problems if not used properly. When using portable generators, keep them outdoors and far away from open doors, windows and vents to avoid toxic levels of carbon monoxide.

 
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