All that white stuff can unleash a deadly killer: carbon monoxide.

Fire and Union Gas officials are warning Londoners to keep their natural gas vents free from mounting snow drifts.

A blocked vent can lead to a buildup of the odourless killer, ending in death.

Case in point was Elgin Hall, a student residence at the University of Western Ontario that was evacuated for an hour Tuesday morning when a carbon monoxide detector was tripped and staff scurried to clear a buildup of snow around heating vents.

About 500 students and staff were relocated temporarily across the road to Sydenham Hall and Medway Hall residences. UWO hospitality staff served hot drinks to the displaced students.

Campus police Sgt. Steve Dykeman said the evacuation was orderly and without incident.

He said it is the first such event he has witnessed in his 21 years on campus and it prompted staff at other residences to check heating and exhaust vents.

The London fire department issued a warning to homeowners to keep their vents clear of snow. Modern high-efficiency furnaces and water heaters vent to the sides of homes, whereas older units use chimneys.

Safety tips:

check fireplaces for closed or blocked flues; ensure exhaust and air intake vents are clear of snow and ice;

  • never start a vehicle or snowblower in a closed garage without opening the door.

The fire department asks residents to call 911 if their carbon monoxide detectors go off and for places without CO detectors if occupants suffer flu-like symptoms, including headache, running nose, sore eyes, dizziness, or vomiting. Union Gas also is appealing to customers to keep gas meters clear of ice and snow so they will continue to function properly and can be accessed in the event of an emergency.

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via London Free Press