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Rising Temperatures Will Rise Spirits, but Could Be Bad for Pipes

January 8, 2018 GMT

LOWELL -- A burst pipe that prompted the closure of the Pollard Memorial Library in Lowell Monday was just one of many that revealed themselves across the region Monday in the wake of bitter cold temperatures that kept the region shivering over the weekend.

Another pipe burst at the Daley Middle School in Lowell, though classes at the school appeared to be unaffected.

Several local fire chiefs said their departments responded to numerous calls of burst pipes and water problems over the weekend, and they warned that even more such calls are expected as temperatures rise above freezing and frozen pipes thaw.

“It’s been a big problem,” said Lowell fire Chief Jeffrey Winward. “We anticipate more of them as temperatures get above 32 (degrees) and broken pipes thaw.”

Neither library Director Victoria Woodley nor City Manager Kevin Murphy could immediately be reached for comment on the extent of damage at the library, which had signs announcing the closure posted on doors.

Significant amounts of condensation could be seen on the inside of several of the library’s ground floor windows as a ServiceMaster truck was parked out front Monday morning.

Superintendent Salah Khelfaoui could not immediately be reached for comment on the extent of damage at the Daley School, but a woman who answered the door at the school said classes were unaffected. The principal was not immediately available.

Winward said his department has responded over the weekend to well over a half dozen calls reporting burst pipes, including some in vacant homes that had as much as five feet of water in the basement.

Winward said water building up to those levels creates significant safety hazards since water begins to get into electrical wiring, creating the risk of electrical shock for anyone who goes into the water.

Earlier in the week, even before Saturday temperatures sank several degrees below zero, with windchills as low as - 25, Winward said several buildings in Lowell suffered major damage from burst pipes.

A burst pipe at 33 Middle St., sent water flowing from the fourth floor to the first floor, and a burst pipe on the first floor of 3 River Place also caused damage last week.

Chelmsford fire Chief Gary Ryan said his department responded to 10 different addresses for frozen sprinkler systems and other issues, including one call to a home on Wotton Street where there was about 2 feet of water in the basement as a result of a broken sprinkler pipe.

Ryan said Chelmsford crews were actively working at the scene of a burst sprinkler pipe in the Radisson Hotel, 10 Independence Drive, even as he provided an update on the issue Monday morning.

Prior to Saturday’s biting cold, officials from local fire departments and the Massachusetts Emergency Manage Agency had warned that homeowners should let water flow through faucets as a pencil-width or less, and that cabinets should be opened to allow more warm air to reach pipes.

That advice was unlikely to do much good now that the worst of the cold has passed, but Tewksbury fire Chief Michael Hazel said homeowners can still minimize damage from burst pipes by knowing in advance where to find emergency shutoff valves for water in their homes. He said it’s also helpful to have the number for a plumber on hand in case of an emergency.

Hazel too said his department responded to numerous calls reporting such issues over the weekend.

“It’s a common occurrence, and in the next day or so as a temperatures rise you’ll see a lot more of them,” Hazel said.

Winward said similar issues caused trouble at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City, Boston Medical Center, and elsewhere as the bitter cold brought a common winter problem to the fore.

“The general public doesn’t know about it, but it’s a big problem for us in the wintertime,” Winward said.

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