Safety first: Local officials stress preparation ahead of winter weather

Published 9:38 am Wednesday, January 10, 2024

As winter weather approaches, local officials are stressing safety and preparedness in their messages to residents.

Vicksburg Fire Chief Derrick Stamps says the winter months generally include an uptick in structure fires, whether it be from faulty wiring, makeshift heating devices or other causes exacerbated by the cooler temps. And while the recent string of house fires in Vicksburg and Warren County do not appear to have been weather-related, Stamps and other local officials said this week that residents should be practicing safe, common-sense preparation in order to avoid the rise in danger that comes with a drop in temperature.

“We definitely need to get the information out that people need to be taking precautions,” Stamps said. “It’s just things people need to be paying attention to. General causes of a house fire, cooking safety, electrical safety.”

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And those precautions, Stamps said, extend to heating homes the correct way as the winter months progress.

“We’ve been in homes where they were using the ovens to heat the house,” he said. “And we’ve just been lucky so far that it hasn’t caused a house fire.”

Warren County Emergency Management Agency Director John Elfer said, while structure fires are certainly a concern during winter months, inclement weather like the possible snow forecast for next week can cause a wide array of issues.

“The first thing is people just need to watch the forecast,” Elfer said. “They’re not always 100-percent correct. It’s kind of a guessing game sometimes. I would just encourage people to pay attention to the latest forecast by going to the National Weather Service in Jackson website, or they can check out our Emergency Management Facebook Page. We will continue to push all of that information out.”

Should the weather become a major concern, Elfer said there are plenty of easy ways residents can make sure they are prepared. 

“Have at least 72 hours of supplies in case we lose electricity,” he said. “Have a way to charge your cell phone; refill medication or go to the grocery store. I wouldn’t wait until the last minute. Just use good common sense.”

Elfer said the last time Warren County faced extreme winter weather was the snowstorm in January of 2021, which did include one weather-related fatality.

“We did have someone who we think slipped on the ice and no one knew. So, people just need to pay attention. You get out there and you slip on the ice and you could have any number of injuries.” 

Echoing Stamps’ advice, Elfer also said residents need to plan to heat homes using proper devices.

“You need to have a heat source that is safe,” he said. “I wouldn’t bring a barbecue grill into my living room. That’s a good way to die from carbon monoxide poisoning. If you have a generator, make sure you know how to work it; that it is properly grounded. You have to know the limitations of it, as to what it can pull and what it can’t, because it can cause a fire and really create a bigger problem than you not having electricity.”

And while Elfer said Vicksburg does not open warming shelters for the general public, Stamps said several shelters operate throughout the year in town, including during inclement weather, such as Haven House, Gateway Mission, and Lifting Lives Ministries.

Elfer said others looking for alternate shelter during a possible storm should make plans ahead of time.

“Now would be a good time to make arrangements with family members or friends if you think you’re going to have an issue,” he said.

Elfer said other tips for avoiding winter weather issues include: trimming any problematic tree limbs, if possible, before the weather arrives; having enough water for drinking, flushing toilets, and bathing; making sure to have non-electric essentials, such as can openers; and planning to stay put until the weather improves.

“When you get downed trees and you get downed power lines, stay away from them,” Elfer said. “And, in the 2021 storm, it was more so a road problem. Our advice is, if you don’t have to drive, just stay home.”

Elfer said anyone with concerns about upcoming weather may visit the Mississippi Emergency Management website for a list of emergency supplies.

“Now is a good time for folks to plan,” he said. “That forecast is still days away and a lot of things will change between now and then, but it’s good to have a plan.”