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Vt. Officials: Be Wary of Carbon Monoxide

Norwich — Public safety officials in the Twin States are urging homeowners to clear furnace vents of snow and also clear roofs of snow loads.

That comes as a problem with a furnace is being eyed as the likely cause of carbon monoxide poisoning that killed three people and sickened a fourth in a home in Plaistow, N.H., on Tuesday.

State Fire Marshal J. William Degnan said the home had a carbon monoxide detector, but it didn’t have batteries.

He said the investigation is focused on the propane-fired furnace.

The Norwich Fire Department also responded to a house filled with carbon monoxide last week, but in that case, the carbon monoxide alarm was working and the woman in the house promptly called authorities.

Firefighters were called to a Hemlock Road residence at about 3 p.m. on Feb. 14, where they found high readings of carbon monoxide in the house and basement. The alarm was set off after snow slid off the roof and blocked the exhaust outlet for the gas-fired heater.

In this case, the piping from the heater ran along the basement ceiling and then exited outside the home just above the foundation wall, close to the ground.

Fire Chief Stephen Leinoff said the piping could easily become covered during a large snow storm or when snow falls off the roof. He encouraged residents to check to ensure the exhaust vents for appliances are free of ice and snow.

“You can be very safety conscious, but you’re depending on equipment and things wear out and malfunction,” Leinoff said. “So the detector is an added level of security, because you won’t detect it yourself.”

Carbon monoxide is odorless and the symptoms can make people drowsy and put them to sleep, which can be fatal.

Houses can be filled with carbon monoxide if people leave their cars running in their garage, and Leinoff said he’s heard of instances where a gas powered machine was running close to a home with open windows, and the fumes blew inside.

In Vermont, carbon monoxide alarms are mandatory in residential occupancies such as hotels and apartments.

In a single-family home, CO alarms are required when the owner sells the home.

It’s important for residents to regularly check their CO alarms, and Leinoff said the life expectancy of the alarms are about five years.

If a resident replaces the batteries and the alarm continues to chirp, Leinoff said it’s likely the alarm needs replacing.

Meanwhile, Degnan’s office on Wednesday said that with rain and freezing rain in the forecast, there is a “greater urgency” to clear roofs of snow and ice. “A roof may collapse with little or no warning, and one common misconception is that only flat roofs are susceptible to collapse,” his office said in release.

Authorities said homeowners should be careful not to block vents or damage fuel tanks as they are clearing snow, and to avoid power lines.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.