Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Time For Preparedness

It's that time of year again.  Time for me to make sure I have everything  in place and ready in case we get snowed in for a few days, the electricity goes out for 2-3 days, The stream overflows it banks across the road, a wind, snow, or ice storm takes down trees across the road so we can't get out until they are cut through, or worse--a branch or tree takes down a power line across the road. All of these things have happened in the 7 years we've lived out here, 10 miles from town; some of them more than once and some years, two or three of these things happened in the same year.  For some reason, there is a conception that our area of WA state doesn't get any dangerous weather.  Some of the more notable Pacific Northwest events debunking that myth can be found at: .

Our deck, 12/26/08
Here in the foothills of Washington state's south-west Cascade Range temperate forest, we live in a "marine controlled environment" which basically means that our weather is mainly controlled by whatever weather is coming in off of the ocean. Usually, that means lots of precipitation, and mildish temperatures. The coldest I have ever seen it here is 19 degrees. But don't let that fool you, as you can see from the picture at left.  Anyone who's been here knows that the PNW is capable of precipitating 24/7 for days (weeks) on end. 

The picture to the left was during Christmas Break in 2008.  The only thing getting out of here was my Ford Expedition with all four tires cabled and my husband driving. He's very kinesthetically gifted, (its a beautiful thing to see him pull a wheelie on crotch-rocket and ride it for two blocks) but he did learn a thing or two about driving in the snow in Colorado to check oil wells daily for my Dad. The wells were usually located in the middle of a farmer's field with a poor excuse for an easement road.

But I digress.  Most of the people who live out here were stranded at home for almost a week during the 2008 snow event, and the people up above us were stranded for longer. They were asking if our neighbor could use his little Bobcat type tractor to plow the road (which is a actually a private drive) but his tractor couldn't make it down his driveway. 

We don't usually have nice fluffy, powdery snow here, its usually heavy and wet.  As a matter of fact I've heard it referred to by skiers as "Cascade Concrete".  It makes navigating the hills, corners, giant ditches and drop offs a bit more challenging than driving a straight line in powder conditions.  It also makes power outages due to power line poles being hit common in winter.  In "The Valley" (Vancouver town area) snow is a rare event so most people just stay home for a few days if it should happen to snow.  Up here in the hills is another story.  We usually get several good 6"+ snow events per year, and getting over a foot of snow is not unusual.

As exciting as the snow is, for the majority of the winter it is just warm enough to rain.  As a matter of fact, one of the worst scenarios I can think of (besides Fukushima completely melting down with the wind blowing this way) is a major earthquake during the rainy season.  There are several fault lines in the area. If we get a decent sized earthquake in winter when the ground is saturated, there will probably be multiple mud slides, many trees toppled plus structural damage to buildings.  There are usually a couple mudslides across major highways here every winter without earthquakes, so I can only imagine if there were one!   It could be a while before we could get to town, even if the earthquake itself wasn't that bad.  I'm going to assume that at least part of our house would still be standing should anything happen because Mr. F does everything to the extreme, so it's very well built.   

So, what are the biggies that we need every day if we can't get out? 
  • Food
  • Water
  • Shelter
  • First aid
  • Heat or Fire
  • Light
  • Tools and
  • Information (to build and fix things--hard copy books).  
  • Medical Prescriptions 
  • A few creature comforts are never amiss, I have shelves and shelves of books. 
  • Communication/Information (Ham radio? We have very little to no cell phone service here.)
Just because I happened to notice my kerosene lamps the other day, and because we have most of the other stuff taken care of, I'm going to start with "light".

If there is no electricity (which is likely because most of the power lines out here are above ground) we have a generator that can be direct connected into our electrical box thingy in the basement, so we'll have electricity that way, but we don't want to run the generator all the time, especially not at night. 

Here at latitude 45.6, on December 21, the shortest day of the year for 2012, we will have 8 hours, 42 minutes and 06 seconds of daylight.  That leaves us with about 15 hours of darkness. Add to that the fact that it is likely to be overcast and raining/snowing which seems to extend the darkness hours.  What are our options for light?

I have three cheap kerosene lamps, a few packs of emergency candles, and a large package of tea lights, an olive oil lamp (cheap and easy to make) and the random flashlight with a few extra batteries. 

Care and Keeping of Kerosene Lamps

Out of my assortment, the kerosene lamps put out the most light but also require the most care. Mr. F does have at least one propane lantern, but I don't have enough knowledge about it to say anything, so I'm leaving that alone for the moment. Right now I need to purchase some more lamp oil or kerosene (lamp oil burns cleaner) and wicks even though I didn't use up all I had for the last couple years.  The reason for this is that lamp oil and/or kerosene are only good to burn for light for about 2 years maximum.  After they have deteriorated, neither will soak through the wicks right, nor will they create much of a flame, but they will smoke--a lot. Just like leaving gas in your motorcycle over the winter and not doing all the winter prep leaves various parts gummed up. 

Clean out your lamp's fuel reservoir about once a year, with mild soap (dish soap) and water, rinse well and allow to dry completely before adding fuel. A lamp's fuel reservoir must be washed if/when switching back and forth between lamp oil and kerosene--the two should not be mixed.  After adding fresh fuel, submerge and soak a new wick in the fuel for at least one hour before attempting to use--the wick needs to be completely saturated with the fuel in order to burn correctly.  A longer soak will not hurt it.    After soaking, run the wick through the lamp's burner as usual.  I like to do this step every autumn, because I don't want to have to wait for an hour or more for a good light. 

I'm thinking about buying new burners for my lamps because a quality burner will make a difference in how much light a lamp can emit without smoking.  Parts for kerosene lamps and the olive oil lamp (below center) can be found at Lehmans (no association).

Safe Candle Holders

To make a quick and safe candle holder, fill a canning jar half way with dry beans, rice, lentils, peas, pebbles, marbles, fish tank gravel, sand, (or even dirt if you're in a real pinch) and stick an emergency candle in the center.  Make sure you use a canning jar because they have been tempered to handle the heat.  Don't use saved pickle jars, spaghetti sauce jars, etc. as they are more likely to break.  A tea light can be simply set in the bottom of a half pint canning jar and lit, or it can be bolstered by anything you can use to stand an emergency candle up in a jar. 

Used food grade metal cans are another cheap and quick candle holder, but be careful when touching because metal is an excellent heat conducter, whereas glass is a poor heat conductor (some call it an insulator).  Metal cans make better emergency heaters than lamps, but can double for both as long as caution is used. 

We'll explore homemade stoves in a future post.  What are your favorite alternative light sources? 


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