By Art Nash
When the East Coast was buried by a blizzard in late January, people along the seaboard were immobilized by several feet of snow and officials called for residents to stay at home. Some people had to leave their homes because of power outages. Our community has experienced unexpected extended electrical outages in the past, most recently in the fall of 2013 and also in 2015 when ice and snow caused trees to break and damage power lines. While these events weren’t considered the serious disasters that emergency planners generally prepare for, they affected many households that needed a power supply for heating, cooking and other things until they could return home.
In Alaska, every resident or family needs one week of provisions available and ready to go in case of evacuation during an emergency. Emergency plans often have detailed lists of instant foods, first aid supplies, water, etc. but they may not mention the need for devices for heating, lighting, electrical generation, cooking food or purifying water — or fuel sources to power these devices. There are several reasonably priced types of devices you can find online or in local outdoors stores that are under or around $100. Without endorsing any one item, here are a few ideas for you to investigate.
For those who have plenty of wood available, the Kelly Kettle is a simple option. This “cooker” consists of a bottom pan burner that has a water jacket around it and a vertical tube for the exhaust; the burn unit heats water on the side while it cooks foods on a pan at the top end of the exhaust tube. The Stove-Tec is a metal container about the size of a three-gallon bucket. It has kiln fire brick inside as insulation and a flat top for a pan to rest on; it also comes with a second (lower door) for nine charcoal briquettes. The Biolite is an upright cylinder, about a foot high, that utilizes a thermal-electric plate inside the burn chamber to power a small electric fan and a USB power port. Keep in mind that each of these manufactured “rocket stoves” burns wood and flue gasses very efficiently yet has no stovepipe.
If you are willing to keep one-pound propane cylinders on hand, Coleman and Zodi make a popular on-demand hot water heater. For heat, look for small catalytic and “buddy” heaters. The old standard two-burner green stove with the small red fuel tank you pressurize now comes in dual fuel models that will burn either gasoline or white gas.
The most important thing to remember is that most propane catalytic heaters, biomass stoves and white gas burners are not vented. This means that carbon monoxide is created in the combustion process and as a general rule of thumb they should not be used inside a dwelling. (Some manufactures’ instructions mention how much minimal fresh air from a window needs to be allowed in if the device is used indoors and these recommendations should be strictly followed).
Take a look of at your emergency kit and make sure it’s equipped with everything you need. For more information, call the UAF Cooperative Extension, which has a variety of publications on emergency preparedness. And keep an eye out for our disaster preparedness classes, which include emergency rocket stove construction, coming up in the spring. Contact Art Nash at 907-474-6366 for details.
Art Nash is the energy specialist for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service. Contact him at 907-474-6366 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.