KEYSER - When it comes to coping with the many hardships created by sub-zero temperatures tightening their icy grip on an area, the best approach is one of common sense.

According to Marc Bashoor, director of the Mineral County Office of Emergency Management, however, common sense often gets ignored when people are struggling to stay warm.

"Sometimes when it's this cold, common sense just doesn't kick in," Bashoor said Tuesday, admitting that it's especially difficult for people to grasp the gravity of extremely frigid temperatures in the wake of the abnormally warm weather experienced in December.

One thing that homeowners should have done before the weather dipped so drastically was to check their furnaces and flues, he said.

And now that the cold weather is here, Bashoor is urging residents with woodburners and wood- or coal-burning furnaces to take care when they stoke the fire.

"People tend to overload their stoves and furnaces, and it can cause a catastrophic fire," he said.

"One spark is all it takes, or one overloaded joint in a wood stove, and you've got a fire."

Heat is not the only worry when it comes to cold weather, however.

"People need to dress in layers, especially for the children waiting at the bus stop," he said. "These extreme conditions will cause frostbite in a matter of minutes."

Bashoor also urges residents to periodically check on their neighbors, especially the elderly, to make sure they are staying warm and have adequately stocked pantries.

"A lot of times the elderly people just won't ask for help," he said.

Frozen and broken water pipes can also cause a multitude of problems, and Bashoor advises residents to take precautions in that area.

"If they haven't already, they should disconnect all outside hoses from the water faucets," he said, adding that letting faucets inside the home run just a little bit will guard against frozen pipes in sub-zero temperatures.

"If you just leave a little trickle of water running; that keeps the water moving through the pipes," he said.

And if the frozen water is in the form of ice on a pond, Bashoor especially urges caution.

"The best rule of thumb is to anticipate that pond ice is never safe," he said, noting that currents underneath the surface or other contributing factors may cause the seemingly thick ice to be unstable.

"Never assume pond ice is safe," he said. "That's the best advice I can give."

Liz Beavers can be reached at lbeavers@times-news.com.

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