Gainesville braces for cold weather

By on October 29th, 2012

The temperature in Gainesville is expected to drop below 40 degrees Monday evening, prompting Gainesville residents to make preparations.

Gainesville Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Joanne Rice said residents need to take precautions when heating up their homes.

“I think that a lot of times we take things for granted, so it’s just making sure … that things work and work appropriately,” Rice said. “We do have a big issue when it comes to portable space heaters. They’re probably one of the leading causes of our fires, and that’s usually from being too close to something that’s combustible like your drapes or upholstery or bed or something like that.”

Rice said there were 60,000 heating equipment fires in the U.S. in 2009. The fires caused nearly 500 deaths and more than 1,000 injuries. Rice recommends creating a safety zone by having a 3-foot radius around the heating equipment.

While some Gainesville residents are using heaters in their own homes, others are helping the homeless look for a warm place to sleep. Sandy Albert, a volunteer at the St. Francis House homeless shelter and soup kitchen in Gainesville, said she’s seen more people come into the homeless shelter because of the cold weather.

“Last week and especially today, it’s cold out there and people don’t have jackets and they’re just trying to get to a safe place, be warm, get some food in their belly and continue on with their lives,” she said.

Rebecca McLucas said she was turned away  from Gainesville’s St. Francis House because there wasn’t enough space.

“I feel that they should have more shelter for us. Being cold outside, I feel that us homeless people suffer like everybody else, and they should have a place for us to stay when it’s getting cold out,” she said. “I just have two blankets — that’s it.”

The shelter’s director of operations, Lee Smith, said he and his team are preparing for more people to arrive.

“Last year was considered a mild winter,” he said. “This year, you know, October is soon to have cold night and normally we don’t reach that until November.”

Smith said the rules at St. Francis House become more relaxed once temperatures go below 45 degrees. This means that the house becomes an overnight emergency shelter, and the staff does not turn people away.

Emily Miller edited this story online.

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