Close carbon monoxide calls a sharp reminder
Several close calls with carbon monoxide this year at Lake Tahoe, including one with a celebrity and her family, should have residents, renters, property managers and second homeowners on alert.
Actress Anna Faris and her family felt symptoms of carbon monoxide after arriving at their North Shore vacation rental this fall but there were no CO detectors in the home.
That same week, Sarita Hendricksen, her husband and infant son, new residents of Incline Village, also had a close call.
“We are recent residents to the North Lake Tahoe region,” Hendricksen said in an email. “We were unaware of the unique and challenging dangers of carbon monoxide in our area due to snow accumulation on roofs that can block furnace exhaust flues, or negligence on proper maintenance due to many homes being vacation rentals.”
Snowstorms during Thanksgiving week raised the risk of carbon monoxide exposure.
“We get more calls in colder months when people are running heating devices,” North Tahoe Fire Protection District Public Information Officer Erin Holland told the Tribune.
As of Dec. 19, North Tahoe firefighters have received 30 calls about CO incidents in 2019, eight this fall. In 2018, they received 21 calls.
“The number of CO calls is somewhat proportionate to the number and severity of cold days,” Holland said.
An article by “Science Daily” said, “Researchers found that most carbon monoxide exposures occurred within the first day of a snowstorm, and on the second and third days of a power loss storm.”
Lake Valley Fire Protection District Battalion Chief Steve Pevenage said there are a few important ways to prevent CO exposure.
“The most important thing is to have functioning CO detectors on each floor of your home,” Pevenage said.
He also suggested clearing a path and removing ice and snow from the gas meter so the utilities company can easily shut off gas if necessary.
Finally, Pevenage said to make sure venting to gas appliances are clear.
After the Faris incident, talk online pointed to short-term rentals as part of the problem because the family’s vacation home was not equipped with CO detectors.
In South Lake Tahoe and El Dorado County, vacation home rental owners are required to have an inspection prior to getting a permit.
The homes must be equipped with CO detectors.
An ordinance passed in Placer County will require working CO detectors in short-term rentals starting Jan. 1, 2020. It will also prohibit some devices in the homes such as charcoal grills and outdoor fire pits.
Holland said communication between homeowners and guests is key.
“Only devices [homeowners] want the renter to use should be available,” Holland said.
She also said the renters should take the initiative to look for the detection devices and make sure they are working.
In a worst case scenario where you are exposed to CO, Pevenage said to make sure you know the symptoms.
“Symptoms include headaches, nauseousness and vomiting, fatigue and other flu-like symptoms,” Pevenage said.
According to the Mayo Clinic, if you experience symptoms, get outside immediately and call 911. You should go to the hospital but do not drive yourself in case you pass out.
Harvard Health said there could be long-term neurological effects from CO exposure including intellectual impairment, blindness and deafness.
While both the Faris incident and Hendricksen’s close call ended with no fatalities, there aren’t always happy endings.