Returning home after wildfires? Here's what you need to know
July 26, 2017
As people begin returning to their homes after wildfires, BC Safety Authority (BCSA) would like to urge homeowners to take safety precautions around gas and electrical systems and equipment.
"We know everyone has been through a very difficult period and people are anxious to get home. For safety reasons gas and electrical equipment exposed to fire or water should never be turned on without being inspected by a licensed contractor," explains BCSA's Brad Bice, Director, Operations, Safety System Operations.
Here are the top things you need to know before heading home:
Wait for instructions – The decision to lift an evacuation order is made by local fire officials in consultation with other agencies. Before returning to your home or business, ensure it's been declared safe to enter by proper authorities. Be patient: Most districts will need to first conduct a comprehensive assessment to ensure the integrity of infrastructure and utilities, including water, sewer, roads, hydro, natural gas and emergency telephone services.
Know the reconnection requirements – In most areas directly impacted by the fires, your local gas and electrical utilities may have turned off your connections. If your gas meter or gas supply has been turned off, do not attempt to turn it on yourself. Call your local utility or supplier for further guidance.
Be appliance aware – Any electrical, gas or heating equipment subjected to fire, or to water as part of firefighting efforts, should not be plugged in or turned on. This includes furnaces, boilers, ovens, refrigerators, gas barbecues, etc. Call a licensed gas or electrical contractor to inspect it first.
Use a licensed contractor – It's always important to use a licensed contractor when having gas or electrical work done, but it becomes particularly important after a natural disaster due to potential issues around safety, home insurance and liability. Typically, homeowners can pull homeowner permits and complete minor gas and electrical work themselves, subject to inspection by BCSA. However, in the case of natural disasters this is not permitted.
Visit BCSA's Find a Contractor page (https://www.safetyauthority.ca/contact/find-contractor) to view a list of licensed contractors, and contact us to learn which permits are required. Before work begins, ask for the contractor's licence number and/or ask to see permits for all of their work. BCSA's data shows that unlicensed work performed without proper permits is four times more likely to result in safety hazards.
If in doubt, get out - If you smell rotten eggs, it could be a natural gas or propane. Stop what you're doing and do not create any source of ignition. Do not use your cellphone or landline and do not operate electrical switches. Exit the premises, leaving the door open behind you. Once outside call your gas utility, propane supplier or 911.
Also stay aware of carbon monoxide (CO), which is a colourless, odourless, toxic gas produced when fuel-burning appliances are not functioning properly. To learn more about the symptoms of CO exposure, visit the CO page on BCSA's website (https://www.safetyauthority.ca/carbon-monoxide)
BCSA employees are available to provide technical advice to homeowners, building owners, contractors, emergency response personnel and gas/electrical suppliers.
For more information about returning home after wildfires including details on what to bring and how to proceed with clean-up activities, please visit PreparedBC (http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/safety/emergency-preparedness-response-recovery/emergency-response-and-recovery/returning-home).
About BC Safety Authority
BC Safety Authority is an independent, self-funded organization mandated to oversee the safe installation and operation of technical systems and equipment. In addition to issuing permits, licences and certificates, it works with industry to reduce safety risks through assessment, education and outreach, enforcement, and research.
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British Columbia Safety Authority