Piles of snow around your house could be deadly unless you take some precautions to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.

We're all sick of shoveling and dealing with heavy, wet snow. But you'll want to take a walk around your house today and check all the outdoor vents. You'll find these near your clothes dryer and around the area where your boiler and furnace are located. Chances are, after this week's snow, they're totally or partially blocked. A closed vent will cause carbon monoxide to build up in your house, which could make your family sick, or worse.

Of course, if you have a garage, you don't have to deal with cleaning snow off the vehicle. But remember to pull it into the driveway before letting it run to warm up. Running it in the garage will, again, cause a build-up of carbon monoxide. And if your vehicle is sitting in a snowbank this morning, be sure to clear the tailpipe before climbing in to try to move it into the clear.

If you're one of the folks waking up without power, a generator is a blessing. But not if it's not properly vented. Fire officials remind us to put the generator in an open area outside, away from any house or garage, and hook it up according to factory specs.

The Mayo Clinic says being exposed to carbon monoxide can make you very sick and even kill you. Symptoms of CO poisoning include a dull headache, weakness, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, shortness of breath, confusion, blurred vision, or loss of consciousness. If you think you've been exposed, get out of the house (or car, or garage) immediately and seek medical attention. Of course, the best defense against getting sick is always having a working CO detector and, if it goes off, leaving the house and calling the fire department so they can do an inspection.

Finally, a quick tip for avoiding fires in your home, be sure to store stove or fireplace ashes in a covered metal container, positioned away from any structure. Bangor Fire Department's Education Officer Jake Johnson says it's amazing how many people will put them in a cardboard box on or near the porch and catch the house on fire.

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