LAWRENCE — With the coldest temperatures of the season so far predicted to arrive Wednesday night, safety officials cautioned residents to stay safe while they attempt to keep warm without heat at home.
Mayor Daniel Rivera, state Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey, and Lawrence Fire Chief Brian Moriarty urged residents to take advantage of alternative housing solutions before their homes become unbearably cold.
As of Tuesday, Rivera said 54 percent of residential meters in Lawrence impacted by the gas disaster were still without gas service. Rivera used that number to extrapolate that of about 5,500 individual homes that were affected, 2,970 are still without heat and hot water.
Some 772 Lawrence families are in temporary housing, leaving approximately 1,198 who are still making due at home.
"It's going to be the chilliest night of the fall to date," Rivera said.
While he said he has "all the faith in the world" in Chief Recovery Officer Joe Albanese to meet the Dec. 16 deadline, Rivera called for Columbia Gas to reconsider giving its workers the Thanksgiving holiday off.
"Ever day sooner is a gift to those families not lit right now," Rivera said. "You get lulled into a sense of normalcy. There is nothing normal about this."
The low temperature overnight Wednesday is expected to dip into the teens, with wind gusts of 25-30 mph. Snow is also expected in the Merrimack Valley on Thursday.
Rivera said extra insulation will be added to the trailers, which are currently housing 329 families across the three affected communities of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover.
In preparation for the cold, Rivera reminded homeowners that they could opt to have their homes "winterized" by Columbia Gas — meaning the water will be shut off and the pipes drained to prevent freezing — if they choose. About 60 families have already joined a queue to have this service completed.
He noted, however, that pipes typically only freeze if the temperature is consistently below freezing for 48 to 72 hours, which is not in the current forecast.
Ostroskey and Moriarty reminded residents that space heaters should have a 3-foot clearance around them and should be plugged directly into the wall, not used with an extension cord. The officials also said the space heaters should not be on at night while residents are sleeping or while they are away from home.
"Space heaters typically themselves do not cause fires," Moriarty said. "It's using the space heater against its manufacturers' instructions that can cause fires."
Rivera said Ostroskey and Moriarty have a plan in place in the event multiple fires are sparked simultaneously due to the unusually high usage expected in the Merrimack Valley over the coming weeks.
"Fire is the No. 1 problem," Rivera said. "Some of these neighborhoods in the three communities are really dense."
To keep pipes from freezing, the officials recommended keeping an open air flow from warm parts of the home to the pipes, by leaving cabinet doors open, for example. Allowing a faucet to drip slowly can also prevent freezing.
Should the pipes freeze, both Ostroskey and Moriarty warned residents against thawing them with an open flame. Air dryers or heating pads that provide low-level consistent heat are safer.
"It's the worst thing that can happen to a community. So it's awful, all of it," Rivera said. "No one's happy, but what I won't do is join a chorus of people who think that more could be done and that more could be brought to bear.
"I think they're bringing everything to bear," he added. "I just want them to keep working."