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Acorn-clogged heater, CO detector created grave danger

December 7, 2012 (Ramona)--Three people were taken by ambulance to UCSD to be treated for high levels of carbon monoxide yesterday. Fortunately, they were released later and are expected to recover. But their ordeal is a reminder of the importance of inspecting and maintaining furnaces, as well as having a working carbon monoxide detector, County officials warn.

At approximately 9:30 a.m. Thursday, a 911 call was made from the 24000 block of Highway 78 reporting a medical emergency of a patient that was possibly cardiac in nature. Shortly after a second person in the same household became ill, the person making the 911 call became unresponsive to dispatchers. 

Units from the Intermountain Fire & Rescue, which is part of the San Diego County Fire Authority; CAL FIRE and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department arrived on scene to find two patients with an altered level of consciousness outside the residence.

Firefighters wearing self-contained breathing apparatus rescued a third person who had collapsed inside the home.

Monitoring equipment confirmed unusually high levels of carbon monoxide. Both the heater and AC exhaust vents were clogged with acorns and debris. A carbon monoxide detector was in the residence, but it did not have batteries.

"As we get into the winter months, it’s more critical than ever to make sure your heater is in good working order," Capt. Brent Stephens of Intermountain Fire/County Fire Authority said. “Also, make sure your home has a carbon monoxide detector and check the batteries.”

Residents can contact San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) at 800-411-SDGE (7343) to schedule a free safety inspection. Additional information about how to safely heat your home this winter is available at www.sdge.com/furnace-safety.

California law requires that carbon monoxide detectors be installed in most homes. For more information on carbon monoxide poisoning and how to prevent it, the public can visit www.fire.ca.gov/communications/communications_firesafety_carbonmonoxide.php.