People scrambling to keep cold at bay

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The Crescent Hotel has had plenty of cold weather for its first ever ice skating rink, but right down from the Crescent on Ellis Grade there is another sheet of ice that caused danger for vehicles before being closed to traffic. One pickup almost made it to the top of Ellis Grade on New Year’s Day before sliding all the way down the hill backwards, nearly going over the steep edge into the valley.

Mayor Butch Berry said the ice on Ellis Grade was caused by a water main leak on Linwood, but he doesn’t think it was due to the cold weather.

“We don’t think it is from frozen pipes,” Berry said. “You aren’t going to have breaks until it warms up. Any leaks we have in our water mains is a normal, everyday occurrence.”

Problems were also reported on lower Mountain St. due to a water leak causing icy conditions.

At press time Tuesday, there had been increasingly cold weather for five days with temperatures down to zero on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

“I can’t remember when we have had such a long spell of cold weather,” Berry said. “People just need to be cautious about going out and leaving their pets out. People in old houses, if they are not sure their pipes are insulated, should leave the water dripping. When it gets down to zero degrees, it can cause problems. We leave our pipes dripping at home and we have a heated floor.”

Berry said overall the city has done well so far with the extreme cold and light snowfalls.

Dwayne Allen, director of Public Works, said the city weathered the extreme cold without significant problems in part by pre-treating the highest elevated streets and spreading gravel in a few areas. But when the cold penetrates the ground this deeply, water and wastewater issues become a concern.

“As the earth warms, it will shift, and that is when major damage to streets and utility lines occur,” Allen said. “So far, so good. But we are not in the clear yet.”

Eureka Springs Fire and Emergency Medical Service Capt. Shane Stanley said they haven’t been inundated with people asking about the cold or any medical calls pertaining to the extreme temps.

“But as time goes by, we worry about that more and more,” Stanley said. “As far as alternative heating goes, a lot of people use those electric space heaters that plug in. The danger is you need three feet of clearance from anything flammable and don’t plug these into a power strip. They need to be plugged directly in the wall because of the amount of electricity that they draw. They are nice and handy to have, but they can also be a little bit dangerous. For the most part, the modern electric heater devices have an automatic shut off. If they fall over, they won’t burn into the carpet. Those seem to be relatively safe, but don’t need to be plugged into an extension cord or power strip.”

While they have had no emergency calls pertaining to the cold, Stanley warns it doesn’t take long to be outside in extreme cold without getting into trouble. In addition to getting too cold, it is possible to overheat if you are working outside wearing a lot of clothing and working up a sweat.

If using wood heaters, Stanley said it is critically important to make sure the chimney has been cleaned out by a professional chimney sweep who knows what they’re doing. There have already been a couple of flue fires this year. And make sure coals are completely out before putting them outside in the yard where they might catch leaves or yard debris on fire.

With gas or propane heat, carbon monoxide can also be an issue. Use a carbon monoxide detector and make sure your heating source is well ventilated.

While the roads in general were mostly clear by Jan. 2, Stanley said it is important to keep an eye out for black ice this time of year.

“Even if it warms up, it is barely going to get above freezing for the next week,” Stanley said. “In extreme temperatures, stay inside. Stay bundled up and stay safe.”

Yvonne Keys, manager of Eureka Supply, said they have sold out of heat tapes that keep water lines from freezing. She has heard from quite a few customers who have frozen or busted pipes. People who are on well water need to use lights or small heaters to keep the pump from freezing.

Keys said vent free natural gas and propane heaters have been popular sellers, as well as ceramic and milk house heaters. They have sold out of the latter two, but are expecting more in this week.

Those most at risk from the extreme cold include those who are homeless. Pastor Chuck Jarrett of A Cup of Love Ministry, said people living on the streets in Eureka Springs have been relocated to shelters in Springfield, Mo., and in Bentonville, Fort Smith and Fayetteville.

“That makes me a feel a lot better,” Jarrett said. “Now we are taking care of the people in need of food and who need help with their heat bill. It will be very difficult this year for people with heating bills. I haven’t been able to find anyone able to help pay people’s utility bills. I think all the churches and everyone is kind of tied up on funds right now.”

Jarrett also worries about people living in RVs. Those can be difficult to keep warm.

Jarrett said only about half of their building is heated, but the dining room is warm and open for hot lunches each day except Saturday from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.