How to safely stay warm: Important things to know during recovery from Oklahoma ice storm
The worst of the weather may be over (for now), but that leaves a lot of questions unanswered following Oklahoma's latest ice storm. Here are some helpful things to know in the coming days and weeks.
Convention Center warming station closes Friday
The American Red Cross and the city of Oklahoma City reopened a warming station at the Cox Convention Center again on Friday, but officials said it will not be available after 6 p.m., when it closes for good.
Other shelters may be available through churches and nonprofit organizations. For help finding information about social services, call 211 any time of day or night.
Those branches aren't firewood yet
The Oklahoma City Fire Department has warned residents to avoid using downed branches in fireplaces, at least this year. So-called "green" limbs, where the wood is fresh and wet, can cause a rapid buildup of creosote in chimneys.
"Creosote is the sticky, waxy, tarry stuff that is VERY flammable and creates a fire hazard in your chimney," Battalion Chief Benny Fulkerson wrote in an email to local media. "This is the stuff that chimney sweep specialists are getting rid of when they inspect and/or clean your chimney on an annual basis."
Dry, well-seasoned wood burns cleaner and more efficiently, he added. Fulkerson recommends letting that lumber dry out and season for at least six months, if not a year, before going into the fireplace.
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Prevent fires when the power comes back
OG&E and the Oklahoma City Fire Department suggest doing these things to avoid accidents as power is restored throughout the state.
Downed power lines should be avoided, even if you think there's no electricity running through it. OG&E also urges customers to inspect the service line and meter outside for damage. If it's damaged, turn off the main breaker and call an electrician.
OKCFD recommends hiring a qualified chimney sweep to clean and inspect fireplaces each year before using. Fires should be completely extinguished before going to bed, and the ashes should be allowed to cool for several days before disposal. Never place hot ashes in a dumpster or trash can.
The fire department also provides smoke alarms and installation free of charge to any OKC resident who needs them. Call 405-316-2337 to schedule an installation.
Avoid large trees (and scams)
Heavy branches covered with ice could fall at any moment, so avoid working under or near large trees until the ice has melted. Ideally, call a professional to help remove limbs and set them aside for pickup.
However, neighborhoods damaged by a natural disaster are often flooded with fly-by-night contractors and scammers hoping to make a quick buck at your expense.
Be wary of contractors who solicit door-to-door, only work with cash, require up-front payment and pressure you to make an immediate decision.
"I know the inconvenience of the ice storm is difficult, but I encourage Oklahomans to be cautious, take their time and fully vet contractors before getting work done to their properties," said Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter. "Be suspicious of door-to-door contractors, never pay cash up front and ask for references of past clients. A full list of what to watch for and how to avoid contractor fraud can be found on my website."
Restoring power could take days
Officials with OG&E warned that it could be several days before power is fully restored to the quarter-million Oklahoma residents who lost power this week. Line workers have made progress, but as of midday Wednesday, OG&E's System Watch reported even more were without electricity after overnight rain in near-freezing temperatures.
“Folks are working 16 hours or more a day,” OG&E spokesman Brian Alford told The Oklahoman. “We try to keep working through the night. We restored over 70,000. But for every step forward, with precipitation continuing to fall, we’re stepping backwards.”
Internet might have to wait, too
Even if your electricity comes back, internet service might still be down. That's because optical fiber connections could have been damaged alongside electrical and telephone lines. Residents in Iowa faced that fact this year after the derecho caused widespread damage across the state.
Internet providers there said they rely on power companies to restore lines before they can reconnect internet services, the Des Moines Register reported. That way, providers can pinpoint which customers are still without service even though they have electricity.
A spokeswoman for Cox in Oklahoma said ISPs generally can't reach their equipment until after the power company is finished with their work.
"As power comes back online, we will certainly discover more outages," said Christine Martin. It does indeed take time for us to physically assess the damage in the outage areas, and we have already started that process."
She also said a lot of infrastructure exists together in rights of way, like along roadsides, so that means service workers are trying to work in the same area.
"We understand many people are working from home and doing distance learning at this time, and internet is more important than ever," she said. "We are working around the clock and bringing in additional resources from out of market to help with our efforts.
“We know our employees are working hard to get customers back as are employees from the power company and other service providers," she said. "We’re so grateful for everyone’s hard work and dedication."
Check on your neighbors
Not everyone can make it to safety when the power goes out. Check on any neighbors or anyone you know who might have difficulty traveling, or anyone who could be in life-threatening danger from cold temperatures. While the weather is forecast to remain above freezing for the rest of the week in Oklahoma City, it still gets very cold at night.
The American Red Cross of Oklahoma recommends people call 211 for information about accessing community resources.
Generators are helpful, but can be hard to find
After a natural disaster, retailers can have a hard time keeping gas-powered generators on the shelf. That's because there's higher demand, and in some cases the disaster can complicate supply lines.
If you want a generator, it's best to go shopping when there's not an emergency.
Oklahoma City resident Mike Jones wrote on Instagram that he hopes people have begun to learn the importance of preparing for a disaster. Specifically for generators, he suggests waiting until after the disaster subsides.
"After every major storm, generators get returned and usually some are just fine," he wrote, adding that he bought his at a half-price discount.
Just remember to keep your portable generator in a well-ventilated area. Safety regulators say generators expel carbon monoxide. Other dangers include electrocution, fire and noise/vibration hazards.
What about food?
Residents on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, who lost food bought with their benefits can file a form with Oklahoma's Department of Human Services for replacement of destroyed food. The form must be received within 10 days of the loss and must be verified by DHS. The agency will not replace more than the monthly allotment of food.
Chris Bernard, executive director of Hunger Free Oklahoma, said the state can also request to offer special disaster-related SNAP benefits.
"It opens the door to other low-income families who may not be on SNAP," he said.
Those options may take time, however. If food is needed right away, Bernard suggests calling 211 or visiting a local food pantry.