Southern California Gas Co. has been deluged with calls from customers requesting inspections of their heating units after two children died in Palmdale and six other people were hospitalized over the weekend with carbon monoxide poisoning blamed on a clogged wall heater.
Dick Friend, a gas company spokesman, said it was impossible to say how many of Monday's callers were reacting to news of the fatality or how many calls the company was getting at its regional offices.
"But it's on people's minds," Friend said. "We are getting a lot of calls and they are mentioning it. We always get lots of calls after an incident like this occurs."
Tracey Martin, an appliance service representative at the utility's Canoga Park office, said she normally will check about 30 heating units a day as colder weather begins, and that's about the most she can handle.
Because of the volume of calls Monday, gas company officials said, customers can now expect delays of two or three days before an inspector will be able to come to their homes.
"Every time something like this happens, we get an influx of work," Martin said. "People call and they're panicked."
Friend said that tips on how to trouble-shoot and clean heating units are contained in the October and November gas bills. Customers also may call their local gas company office to schedule a free inspection.
Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies, called to the Palmdale home Saturday by a woman complaining of dizziness and vomiting, found a 6-month-old boy and a 3-year-old girl dead. Carbon monoxide poisoning was suspected in the deaths.
Their parents, identified as Edgar Herincx, 26, and his wife, Miriam, 23, were hospitalized at Northridge Hospital Medical Center. They were still listed in serious condition late Monday night. The family had been visiting friends, who were also sickened by the invisible, odorless fumes.
Gustavo Alvarez, 36; his wife, Zoila, 42, and their children--Gus, 6, and Annie, 11--were treated and released early Sunday.
The survivors were treated in a hyperbaric chamber at Northridge Hospital Medical Center to stabilize the oxygen levels in their blood.
Inspectors from the gas company determined that the heater vent was clogged with lint, spewing deadly carbon monoxide back into the house.
Gas company officials said improperly installed and poorly maintained heating units are responsible for a handful of carbon-monoxide poisonings each year. But annual inspections and cleaning should eliminate the risk.
"I look at burner characteristics, check the firebox for cracks or ruptures, and check the venting," she continued. "Those are definitely the three main things that we look for. It's not something that the everyday household customer is going to know to look at."
Martin said a yellowish flame is a sign of incomplete combustion--and an indication that the burner is clogged or dirty. The flame should be blue, she said.
The Gas Co. serves almost all of Southern California.
The phone number of the nearest local office can be found in customers' gas bills or in the telephone book.
Cleaning Heaters Forced-air or wall furnace:
1. Turn off thermostat.
2. Remove panel or grill.
3. Turn off pilot. Follow instructions on heater.
4. Clean or replace filters on forced-air heaters. (Wall heaters do not use filters.)
5. Clean dust or lint from burner compartment.
6. Turn pilot on and relight.
7. Replace panel. Make sure it is closed securely to avoid risk of death by asphyxiation.
8. Call the local office of the Southern California Gas Co. if you need help.
1. Turn thermostat or burner control off.
2. Remove grill or panel.
3. Clean exposed area with a vacuum or damp cloth.
4. Replace grill or louvers. Do not place any item on or near the louvers.