Fire Hazard

Fire is among the many risks presented by hurricanes, as can be seen with these hour homes on N 1/2 Street in Galveston that burned to the ground Sept. 13, 2008, during Hurricane Ike.

As many Galveston County residents prepare to evacuate their homes because of the threat of Hurricane Laura, local officials are urging people to take steps to minimize the risk of fire caused by the storm.

Lightning strikes causing power surges and storm surge flood waters sparking electronic devices are common causes of structure fires during severe weather.

“Water and electricity just don’t mix,” Galveston Fire Chief Charles Olsen said.

So, before evacuating their homes, some of the key measures residents can take, according to local officials, include:

• Switching off the main breaker for power to the house

• Turning off gas appliances

• Unplugging non-essential electric appliances

• Moving docked boats out of marinas, if possible

“Just trying to unplug and cut things off is the best approach,” League City Fire Marshal Tommy Cones said. “Your biggest problem is power surges kicking on and kicking off.”

Residents should be diligent in clearing any item that could spark a fire during a storm, Olsen said. For example, Olsen recalled during Hurricane Ike in 2008, a home burned down after a fire was sparked by the battery in a motorized wheelchair.

“Batteries can do that; electronics can do that,” Olsen said. “So, you need to think about everything. They left, they thought they were doing everything right, but they forgot about the battery-powered wheelchair in the house and they lost everything in a fire.”

Hurricane Ike also contributed to fires on boats docked at marinas. Although it’s difficult to determine specifically what caused those fires, common items found on boats are susceptible to being sparked by storm surge flood waters, Olsen said.

“You could have fuel floating around in there once the tanks went underwater, and it only takes one spark to start it,” Olsen said. “You’ve got batteries shorting out because of the rising tides. For those leaving their boats behind, you can disconnect your batteries, just in case the water level does rise.”

For those choosing to ride out the storm, additional fire safety tips include ensuring smoke detectors and fire extinguishers are working and, for those with gas appliances, watching for carbon monoxide leaks, Cones said.

James LaCombe: 409-683-5242, james.lacombe@galvnews.com or on Twitter @JamesAtGalvNews

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