Friday, October 26, 2012
Preparing for an Emergency: Light and Heat
When I was a little girl, rural electrification was just reaching rural Montana, and we were all very excited about it. We kept plenty of matches in a watertight metal box though, in case the electricity failed and we had to fall back on older technologies. Always keep on hand a way of making light if the electricity goes off. All the adults in the house should have a few candles, a candle holder, and a box or book of matches right with them in their rooms, situated so that the candle could be lit and mounted in a firm position even when struggling to see in the dark. In addition to the candles, a few kerosene lamps, Coleman lanterns, "barn lights," or other such devices would be helpful.
Instant Candles. In an emergency, you can make an instant candle out of a string, with one end lying in some cooking oil (or any fat, even bacon grease) in a dish and the other end hanging over the edge and burning. You get more light if you use 7 or 8 strings. They're very smoky, but if you're desperate for light, anything will do.
Outdoor Lights. A powerful, portable battery-operated light and extra batteries for it is the cleanest, safest, easiest emergency lighting system. Carry one in your car, and keep one or two in your emergency kit at home. We used Coleman lanterns for night trips to the barn before we got electric barn lights. They're still good for making outdoor light for farming, camping, or hunting, although "barn lights" and electric lamps are also good options now. They're all very portable in the lighted state. Many camping/hunting stores carry them. You have to buy a special fuel for Coleman lanterns, but a little goes a long way. You also have to buy a "mantle" which functions as a wick and lasts pretty long unless a curious finger pokes it. In that case, it immediately shatters into ashes, and you have to install a new one to have light again. Don't throw away your instruction booklet, because they can seem complicated until you get used to them. Sold by C.Crane and Alladin Mantle Lamp Company.
Kerosene Lamps. I remember kerosene lamps in our house. Electric lights were such an improvement--more light, no odor, no lamps to fill or wicks to turn up or lamp glasses to clean or break. Kerosene lamps are good indoors but not outdoors because they blow out easily. Practice using yours when you have plenty of light, so it will be easy when you need to light it in the dark. Sold by Lehman's.
Smoke Detector. Since you might be burning all those flames to help you cook and see, better also make sure you have a battery-powered smoke detector.
Emergency Heat. Plan a way of heating and cooking without electricity, and store a fuel supply for that system. For most people, that backup is a wood burner, even a fireplace. But fireplaces are not heat-efficient and are tough to cook on, so a wood stove, properly installed with a stovepipe, is better. Keep a supply of newspapers and kindling for starting fires and wood for burning, or you'll be burning your furniture if it's that or freeze. To keep the fire going for heat and bottle warming, you have to train yourself to wake up and put more fuel in the stove when needed.
NOTE: You absolutely cannot use charcoal grills or hibachis to heat a house. They give off carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless, poisonous gas that has killed a lot of people who tried that. A propane or gasoline camp stove can be used in the house, and propane stores well.
[Adapted from the "Living Simply 'Primitively'" section of Chapter 1: Oddments. Illustration copyright 1994 by Cindy Davis.]