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My fancy has been tickled to start writing weekly preparedness articles again, and in this new inaugural episode I must remove egg from face. Granted, the power only went out for just under twelve hours this last time, but almost exactly eleven months since our last hours-long power outage it is a bit soon to re-learn some basics. Well, one anyhow—how to lite the pilot on my propane fireplace. I’ll talk about that in a bit. Really what came to surface was how I have not taken most of the simple actions I keep identifying to prepare for these outages. And while I can chalk a little bit up to tiny prepping budget, I own enough items to just go ahead and put a kit together.
If the late autumn weather is any indicator, my area is in for a very snowy winter. I live in “not-snowy” western Washington State—but in a unique geographical area that gets snow in feet when almost everyone else nearby is getting rain. And though the rain contributes to falling trees fairly often, it is the heavy wet snow that causes our (mostly) Douglas firs to fall over like they’re fifteen year old girls at a Justin Bieber concert. In the two weeks prior to publishing this, I’ve had at least thirty inches of snow fall at my property. Now, I’ve only had one tree come down on my two driveways this time, unlike the several back in January that I mentioned in this article. So I’ll preface the article lessons learned by adding one not related to the power outage. I’ve figured out that my near-new Craftsman snow blower just plain sucks. The right half of the auger blades stop turning the moment they run into any snow that is not as light-n-fluffy as Peter Cottontail’s boo-tay. Gripe over; let's move on.
Two weeks ago, the power went out a little bit before five PM, which is dark already where I live. My wife had already started cooking a sloppy Joe type dish on our propane kitchen stove. So that was a lucky break. Busting out our lantern and its batteries was easy enough, and we always have a big Olight staged by the front door. But as it became apparent the power would be out for hours, I had to go downhill to my shop in a foot of snow to fetch candles.
“Guess I should’ve built that ‘Lights Out’ kit I planned on building…” I thought that a few times that night. I knew it was going to be a cold night. We don’t use our propane fireplace, so we don’t run the pilot lite all the time. (We have a heat pump backed up by a furnace for normal heating).
I foolishly hunted in about three spots for a long neck lighter that I didn’t need. Lighter in hand, I lay on the floor with the headlamp I keep staged near my recliner, staring at the wires, switches and heat exchanging manifold under the fireplace. “Where the hell do I hold the lighter? Wait! Am I thinking of the water heater? Shoot (only spelled differently), I’m confused!” I kept messing with the pilot switch and triple checking the valves for the gas. It wasn’t until my second trip down to the floor, after dinner, that the little ‘explosion’ emblem on the electric starter slapped me in the common sense.
Click-click-click. “Hey look! The pilot is on!” The last lesson in that little embarrassment was that I need to let that pilot go for a good eight to ten minutes before moving the switch from pilot to ‘on.’ Otherwise the flame kept going out. The whole time I was scolding myself for not writing all of this down and putting it somewhere obvious eleven months ago. Somewhere like… Oh, I don’t know… a LIGHTS OUT kit?!
Now let’s talk water. As I’ve shown in this video, I have several hundred gallons of long-term water storage at my shop. That isn’t practical for a short-term solution. I went to our outbuilding near the house for a case of bottled water to bring into the house. Normally when we have a windstorm in progress we’ll go fill the bathtubs with water to flush the toilets with. We failed to do that, and one of my kids or grandkids flushed toilets and washed hands, using up any residual pressure from our well. We decided to… “fill the bowl well”, if you catch my meaning. I made it clear that any brown trout would need to be flushed with bottled water. It’s about three years old and full of plastic chemical anyway.
To keep this from becoming 2500 words, I’m going to switch to bullet format.
What went wrong:
- Only had one lighter in the house. That’s great for lighting candles, but—you know… two is one and all that
- I forgot how to start the fireplace
- We had one homemade candle deep in the hall closet
- The heavy snowfall was a major deterrent for wanting to fire up the generator and leave it outside all night. We have a pop-up canopy that works okay for wind and rain (with some reinforcement efforts) but the snow would’ve collapsed it. The generator plugs into the outbuilding where the power comes onto the property. I will address my options and a more permanent solution for this problem in a future article.
- We had years old, leaking dead AAA batteries in the battery case; and one headlamp not working
- Not running the generator meant I didn’t use my CPAP, which meant waking up with a mild headache when the power came back on at 0435
What went well:
- My ready Baofeng! (Owning several, one stays near the recliner for these events.) We listened to the local fire and police channels on scanner mode while reading by candlelight. Dare I say, it was almost enjoyable. But, I had no AM channels programmed into one of the side buttons, so music was out of the question. I do have several batteries for it in the house.
- Early on, my son and I put my snow chains and chainsaw into my truck. I needed the chainsaw to clear the driveway the next morning
- Once I made it past “operator error” the fireplace worked well
- We had usable water in the next building
- We had plenty of candles in the other next building. The tall, skinny dollar-store candles in glass worked very well
- There was one gallon of stored well water in one bathroom, remnants of a past emergency flushing plan. Keep reading—I’ve thought of a cool way to amplify this idea in my house
- We had a 3-pack of spare, brand new headlamps available
- The ready lantern is always reliable
- The Goal Zero backup battery kept my wife’s CPAP running for the night
My plans for fixing these lessons:
- Put together a Lights Out kit. This is not a new idea. Check out this video by my buddy Cliff the Urban Prepper. It is simply a good container of the things you need, well marked, in a ready location. Some things are obvious: candles, lighters, batteries, chem lights. Some are less obvious: a manual can opener, easy to heat canned food, instructions for lighting the fireplace. This will get a video and update article in the coming weeks.
- Storing jugs of flushing water (and a case or two of bottled) under the stand in our laundry room.
- Bringing the enamel percolating camping coffee pot up to the house! I would’ve been P.O.’d if I didn’t have coffee the next morning.
- Add a reminder to my scheduling system to do periodic charging of batteries, rotation of canned goods, etc.
What are your thoughts? I have a good list planned, but I’d love to hear what you all keep ready for short term power outages! Shoot me an email to Austin@authoraustinchambers.com
Thanks! And remember—Our Duty is to Be Ready