So. Lake sees harbinger temps of winter

Wake up, and it's freezing. Literally. Low temperatures are predicted to stay in the 20s this week at Lake Tahoe.

"I could see my breath (Monday) morning," said Jody Phoenix of South Lake Tahoe. "It's the first day I'm wearing my parka. (I didn't turn on my heater), but I thought about it."

Cold weather tightens its grip on South Shore this time of year because nights get longer. That allows heat that collects during the day more time to escape into space. On Monday, South Lake Tahoe hit a low of 26 degrees; Truckee dipped to 21 degrees.

"That's about normal," said Rhett Miln, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Reno. "It's clear out, and the nights are cooling things off."

Ice forming on trees and heaters kicking in in the morning means cold weather responsibilities kick in. Is the chimney clean? Is the car ready for winter?

Every fall about this time, the fire departments deal with chimney fires. A lot of the time it's a neighbor who reports the fire. Homeowners usually take notice by the time enough burning wood residue, called creosote, makes their chimney into a wind tunnel.

"A lot of people don't even know they have one," said Capt. Brad Piazzo of the fire department. "If it's a big enough chimney fire, it starts pulling air up and can sound like a jet engine coming in from the fireplace."

An annual chimney sweeping will take care of the problem. Burning hot fires with dry wood and keeping paper and cardboard out of the fireplace will also prevent buildup of creosote.

As a general rule, keep wet clothes and stacks of wood at least 3 feet from a fire. And never burn charcoal in a fireplace. It produces colorless, odorless carbon monoxide, which can kill, Piazzo said.

A cord of softwood costs about $230. A cord of hardwood, which burns longer but is more difficult to light, runs about $400. People typically buy a cord that is a mix of half soft and half hard wood, said Steve Wood, owner of Affordable Lawncare and Snow Removal.

Homeowners should clean pine needles out of gutters and off roofs, especially if the roof is wood shingle. And cap the chimney with a spark arrester so errant sparks don't ignite gutter pine needles. After the fire is out in the fireplace or wood stove, make sure the ash goes into a metal container and is left on a surface that is not flammable, Piazzo said.


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