No, really, in case you didn't notice, it's cold, really cold. It's so cold, in fact, that the state of New Mexico is in a state of emergency, as declared in a public address this afternoon by Gov. Susana Martinez.
At least, the cold is half the culprit. The other half is that a rash of power outages in West Texas, coupled with increased heat demand resulting from New Mexico's coldest sub-zero temperatures ever recorded (-14 degrees Fahrenheit Thursday morning at the Santa Fe Municipal Airport upset the previous 1951 record of -6 degrees), resulted in natural gas outages to assorted communities throughout the state. Affected areas, according to a press release from New Mexico Gas Company, include Alamogordo, Bernalillo, Española, La Luz, Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, Placitas, Questa, Red River, San Ildefonso Pueblo, Santa Clara Pueblo, Silver City, Taos and Tularosa.
Emergency shelters have been set up in cooperation with the American Red Cross and National Guard, in Alamogordo, Bernalillo, Española, Questa, Red River and Silver City, according to the most current information available on the New Mexico Office of the Governor's website.
In Santa Fe, where the overnight low temperature is expected to bottom out at approximately 4 degrees, citywide reports of pipes freezing prompted the Sangre de Cristo Water Division to issue a statement, as reported by the Santa Fe New Mexican. It recommends that residents use blow dryers to thaw frozen pipes, and stresses the importance of never using a blowtorch or open flame, as "an open flame will melt plastic pipes and create a fire danger."
Really. Apparently, this is a huge problem: People attempting to thaw frozen pipes with blowtorches set their houses on fire or cause the pipes to explode. An ad hoc Google search reveals several dozen articles on the subject. In fact, the illustration in the middle of this article was pulled from the first page of search results for the term "blowtorch" in an archive of public domain images. But then, the pipes in that illustration are presumably metal, not plastic and, yes, using a blowtorch on metal pipes is still dangerous.
Normally, I'd take this opportunity to plug the Darwin Awards, but this phenomenon appears to be far too commonplace for that. Even the American Red Cross, in its "Preventing and Thawing Frozen Pipes" article, specifically warns against using open flames.
Moral of the story, people—while the state is in a state of crisis, if not at any other time: Don't use blowtorches to melt frozen pipes. Just don't do it.