Get Out There

SPIN’s Winter Safety Tips: Driving & Home Safety

 | February 8, 2021

Keep up with this mini-series of three winter safety articles that highlight hazards for Sun Peaks residents and how to mitigate them

Photo from SPFR

Household fires are a possibility no matter the time of year and winter driving can be especially dangerous on high mountain roads like the one that leads to Sun Peaks.

SPIN spoke with fire prevention officer Martin McQuade of Sun Peaks Fire Rescue (SPFR) to get the details on how to keep yourself and your family safe whether you’re behind the wheel while winter driving, or keeping your house warm and cozy during the changing conditions of winter.

Winter home fire safety

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), one in every five home fire deaths are due to heating equipment such as microwaves, space heaters, electric fireplaces or coffee makers. Peak months for electrical fire deaths occur November through March and half of all home fires occur between December and February.

McQuade advised against plugging in heating equipment to extension cords or power bars, giving them a berth of one metre and only plugging a maximum of one heat producing device into each wall outlet to prevent the chance of a surge protector failing and causing a fire.

“There have been [electrical] fire reports already within the province. I know in Sun Peaks we like to use extension cords to run heaters into our garages or ski wax rooms, but those extension cords or power bars with surge protectors can fail or catch fire,” McQuade explained.

Visible and lit address numbers can help first responders find your house. File photo.

Another hazardous heat source commonly used during the winter or power outages, or simply for ambience, are candles which sparked one cautionary tale.

“Last year a tea light candle underneath a TV melted the bottom of the TV’s frame. Someone smelt burning plastic before it caught fire but it was pretty close to, if it had caught fire the whole unit and the wall attached to the TV and everything around it could have gone up. Luckily it was not the case, but it was a close call,” said McQuade.

McQuade also warned against leaving portable heaters and even electric fireplaces on overnight, and said it’s possible for people to fall asleep with them on, waking up to a fire in the middle of the night.

Another hazard in the home that has been referred to as the silent killer is carbon monoxide poisoning which is becoming increasingly more common, and is a real possibility to residents of Sun Peaks because of the use of propane and natural gas to fuel appliances. 

“If you don’t have a carbon monoxide detector, you should get one if you are serviced by propane. If you do have one, you should test it monthly and don’t forget the smoke alarm too.” said McQuade. 

McQuade added for those with wood burning fireplaces, have the chimneys professionally cleaned annually and to only burn firewood, as other items can cause unwanted dangerous build-up.

Another hot topic for SPFR and emergency services is the difficulty to see residential addresses from the street. In the event of an emergency, response should not be delayed due to being unable to find the correct address.

“Addresses should be clearly posted, in contrast to the surface they’re on, so not white numbers on white siding, and illuminated. We want to see your address from the road 24 hours a day and 365 days a year,” added McQuade.

For more information on emergency preparedness, McQuade compiled a useful list including the federal government’s preparedness guide and instructions on emergency preparedness kits by the Red Cross and PreparedBC.

Winter driving

The Heffley Louis Creek road is somewhat unique as it doesn’t change elevation in a linear fashion causing inconsistencies in the weather and freezing levels along it.

The elevation of Whitecroft is actually lower than the elevation of Heffley Lake; initially you descend from Sun Peaks, but then gain elevation again as you drive to Heffley Lake. 

“Elevation in mountain road driving does play a key factor in where the freezing level is, you might have warmer weather in Whitecroft than in Heffley because elevation of the road going past Heffley lake is [approximately 200 metres] higher,” said McQuade. “People think once they’re past Whitecroft they’re out of the trouble, but the road is in and out of the shade, the sun melts the black top but then it freezes when it goes back on the shade, leaving a clear ice on it like a skating rink.”

A number of factors play into whether or not drivers make it to their destination safely, but McQuade warned against people becoming complacent behind the wheel just because they have good winter tires, studs and/or all wheel drive or four by four capabilities. 

“You have to take all of the variables into consideration including the vehicle you drive, and drive to the changing conditions,” warned McQade.

Drive to the changing road conditions.

If drivers do come across an accident, McQuade advised drivers to first call 911, which will dispatch SPFR and only get out to help if it’s safe to do so. 

Pertinent information that the fire department wants to know includes if anybody is in the vehicle and if the vehicle is upside down, on its side, or on its wheels.

“That information is super important but if they get out of their car and the roads have that thin layer of clear ice, the last thing we want to do is get somebody to get out to try and help then become involved in an incident themselves, further stressing emergency services resources,” said McQuade.

He also suggested if the conditions are bad staying home might be the best option.

He added if there are emergency vehicles on the roads with lights and sirens on, drivers need to pull over and stop.

“If we’re out there in the event of an emergency, chances are we are also driving in poor conditions, the last thing we want is to make a bad situation worse.”

It is also suggested drivers be prepared with an emergency kit that contains a blanket, road flares, first aid supplies, food and water. Make sure to customize your kit for the region you live in. McQuade suggested carrying a small shovel and kitty litter in case you need to get your vehicle unstuck in slippery and snowy road conditions

Visit DriveBC to get the latest road conditions and reports.