December 18, 2013

More snow and bitter cold, and it’s not over

Brutal conditions send outreach workers into the woods and alleys of Portland, looking to persuade vulnerable people to seek shelter.

By David Hench dhench@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

After another day of brutal cold and another snowstorm, anyone hoping for relief Wednesday will likely be disappointed.

Today's poll: Dealing with the cold

How have recent cold temperatures affected you?

Car trouble

Frozen pipes

Had to change my plans

Burning more fuel/wood for heat

Have not been affected

View Results

click image to enlarge

Preble street outreach member Bill Burns check on people living in makeshift shelters inside the boundaries of Portland on Tuesday, December 17, 2013.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

Related headlines

fire safety tips in extreme cold

n Make sure heating source is appropriate for the space.

n Vent heaters that create exhaust like kerosene burners.

n Make sure combustibles are kept a safe distance from a heat source.

n Make sure wood stove chimneys have been cleaned.

n Don’t heat with devices that are not intended for that use, such as cook stoves.

n Don’t reduce air flow to a wood fire so much that smoke creates creosote.

n Call the Fire Department at the first sign a wood stove is malfunctioning.

n Make sure smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are working.

Source: State Fire Marshal’s Office

more frigid facts about winter in Maine

n The coldest day ever recorded in Maine was 50 degrees below zero set on Jan. 16, 2009, in Aroostook County near Big Black Brook Lake.

n The snowfall totals for the month of December 2013 are as follows:

13.8 inches as of Dec. 17, 2013. (That amount does not include the snowfall amounts expected overnight and into Wednesday). That is 7.8 inches above normal for the month.

By comparison, 4.6 inches of snow had fallen as of this date in December 2012.

n The state’s record snowfall for the month of December was set in 1970; it was 54.8 inches.

The air mass that settled over Maine on Tuesday brought the coldest weather in two years, with temperatures ranging from 5 below zero in Portland to 20 below in Fryeburg and 19 below in Farmington, according to the National Weather Service in Gray.

And a snowstorm that began Tuesday evening was expected to last into the early morning and dump 3 to 6 inches of snow along the southern Maine coast and as much as 8 inches in the midcoast.

John Cannon, a meteorologist with the weather service, said Wednesday will be partly sunny, with high temperatures in the upper 20s. But winds as strong as 20 mph will create a wind chill that will make it feel like zero degrees.

Tuesday’s cold, and the forecast for more snow, sent social service outreach workers into the woods and alleys of Portland, looking to convince vulnerable people to seek shelter from the elements.

The HOME Team, run by Portland’s Milestone Shelter for people with substance abuse problems, scoured the city Tuesday afternoon to make sure clients got indoors and didn’t fall prey to the cold.

“There’s more of a sense of urgency when you know there’s a storm on the way,” said Joseph McNally, assistant shelter director and coordinator of the HOME Team, which works to convince people with alcohol abuse problems to get into the shelter or the agency’s detoxification program.

Ryan Searles, an outreach worker for the HOME Team, said cold weather can be especially dangerous for people whose judgment is impaired by alcohol.

“They fall asleep in a snowbank in the park. They think it’s going to be 20 minutes and it’s three hours and they end up in the emergency room blue from the cold,” he said.

Peggy Lynch, outreach coordinator for Preble Street, and Bill Burns, the coordinator of the social service agency’s adult day shelter, trudged through deep snow on the city’s outskirts Tuesday afternoon, scouting some of the area’s campsites to make sure homeless people had enough blankets and warm clothes.

Lynch carried a donated pair of winter boots for a person who might run the risk of frostbite with shoes that weren’t insulated.

Burns said some homeless people choose to live far from the city’s center, and can be vulnerable with no one to check on their well-being.

“The calculus is trying not to be detected by police or property owners and still have a sense of safety,” Burns said. “Obviously, we want more housing for everybody because people should not have to choose.”

HEATERS POSE THEIR OWN RISKS

State Fire Marshal Joe Thomas said extreme cold can lead people to use heaters in ways that can be dangerous.

“They need to think about the proper heater for the type of environment they’re in,” he said. “These kerosene heaters, they need to think about venting, to make sure there is air movement throughout the building.”

People with wood stoves must use them properly, and that relates to how much air is getting to the fire, he said.

“In a condition like this, the thing we find is people are ... trying to get an entire day out of one log, so they damp it way down and wind up with a cold fire,” he said. “A cold fire with cold temperatures builds up creosote,” the flammable coating that can build up inside a chimney.

If people suspect something is wrong with their wood stove, or hear a loud whooshing sound that might indicate a chimney fire, they should call the fire department immediately. The response won’t cost the resident but could save their home, he said.

(Continued on page 2)

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Today's poll: Dealing with the cold

How have recent cold temperatures affected you?

Car trouble

Frozen pipes

Had to change my plans

Burning more fuel/wood for heat

Have not been affected

View Results