When their power went out the day after Christmas, Brett Markum and his wife, Sheri Hohmann, took it in stride. "I had a feeling it would be off for a while, so I started prepping the food while it was still light," Brett said.

That evening they dined on shrimp fettuccine in the glow of candlelight.

The couple weathered the outage, which for them lasted about 76 hours, by cooking on their gas stove and turning on their gas fireplace insert, which they knew how to operate manually. Even without the electric blower, it kept the main floor of their cozy home warm. "Without the fireplace (insert), I don't think we could have done it," he said.

They conserved hot water by showering at a neighbor's house and a fitness club. "We kept the hot water for hand washing. We kept it all the way through," said Brett.

Other Wasatch Front residents coped with the outage differently: they moved in with relatives or checked into a hotel.

The key to dealing with an extended power outage, say experts, is to assess your situation ahead of time and have a plan in mind. Like a Boy Scout, you should be prepared.

"It's a good thing to look ahead and think of possibilities to be prepared," said Gary Wise, the state fire marshal.

Wise, for example, would use both of the fireplaces in his home to keep the pipes from freezing during an extended outage. He has a 1,500-watt generator that he would plug into the refrigerator to keep food cold.

Michael R. Pickrell, owner of Rocky Mountain Stove & Fireplace, has a free-standing gas stove that generates the electricity it needs to work. "You don't have to do anything different during a power outage," he said.

The moral of the story: Acquaint yourself with your home-heating equipment ahead of time so you know how they work during a power outage, or whether they would work at all.

Questar Gas says you should never use your gas stove top or gas oven as a source of heat.

If your stove top has an electronic ignition, which won't work during a power outage, you can still use the burners for cooking by holding a match to a burner to ignite the flame.

Other things to consider:

If you have a gas fireplace insert, does it work without electricity? Typically, an insert with a continually operating pilot light will work during a power outage. One with an electronic ignition, on the other hand, probably won't help you. "If you're buying a gas insert, make sure you're comfortable with the way it operates if the power goes out," advises Darren Shepherd, spokesman for Questar Gas.

If you have a wood-burning stove, do you have enough dry wood, including kindling, to last for several days? And are members of your family skilled enough at building a fire that they don't fill the house with smoke in the process?

When was your chimney last cleaned? Creosote build-up is a potential fire hazard.

If you have a generator, do you know how to safely use it and do you have enough fuel stored safely away from combustibles?

Even fuel that's stored properly can be a fire hazard. "Kerosene heaters were very popular a few years ago, when people were preparing for Y2K," said Gary Wise. "We ended up having major problems because people had 55-gallon drums in their garage that was a main source of fuel when the garage caught fire. Any time you use a flammable liquid, you have to be extra careful."

The level of preparedness of Utahns who lived through the prolonged day-after Christmas outage was put to the test. We asked a few people who were without power how they managed and whether they would do anything differently.

Jean Davis, 84, and her son, Bob, whose power was out for more than 60 hours, used an oil lamp and flashlights for light. They have rechargeable flashlights plugged into outlets throughout their Cottonwood Heights home. They ate cold food except for the one meal they had at a restaurant. Jean has a 72-hour emergency kit with a battery-operated/wind-up radio and light.

Their home has a wood-burning stove but they weren't able to use it at first because their firewood was wet. Bob set some on the patio to dry and they started a fire later.

They're thinking of buying a small propane stove they could use to cook on outdoors in the event of an extended power outage in the future. And next time they won't open their freezer door. "We were concerned about our frozen food," Jean said. "We took it outside, and would you believe some of it started to thaw. It would have been wiser to leave it in the freezer and not open the door as much as possible." The temperature inside their home got down to 40 degrees. To escape the cold, Jean spent one night at the home of another son.

David and Shirley Dellagnola of Copperton were without power for about 30 hours. With two young grandchildren, they packed up and stayed with relatives. They're talking to an electrician about getting a generator hard-wired to their furnace. "We were caught a couple of years ago in that three-day outage, but it wasn't quite so cold then and we didn't have little kids with us," David said.

Lynn Boulter and his wife Edith, of Cottonwood Heights, faced extra hurdles. Edith was on oxygen at the time, recuperating from hip-replacement surgery, and Lynn is visually impaired. Neither of them could drive when the power outage occurred. Otherwise, they would have gone to a hotel.

Oxygen from portable units, which don't require electricity, tided Edith over.

"We kept expecting the power to come back on," said Lynn, who eventually called his brother. He picked them up in a four-wheel-drive and took them to his house. They would have acted faster had they known they were in for an extended outage.

Would they prepare differently in the future? "We wished we had candles and flashlights handier, and it would have helped if our extra blankets were more accessible," Lynn said. "Fortunately, we had a lot of candles that had been given to us for Christmas."

What would Markum and Hohmann have done differently? They wouldn't have opened their refrigerator door until 24 hours or so had passed. "We thought we should try to use up as much stuff as possible," said Brett. "Then I talked to a friend who said the best thing to do was keep the fridge shut. " They eventually took their frozen food to a restaurant that's owned by a neighbor and put it in the walk-in freezer.

And they'll make sure their battery-operated Coleman lantern is functional. "It has a battery pack you charge from an outlet," Brett said. "It wasn't charged. We took it to a neighbor's but it wouldn't take the charge."

Instead, they used candles strategically placed throughout their house.

Alternative heat sources are on people's minds.

Pickrell said many people coming into his stores are asking for ventless inserts. They cost less than a vented insert, they're easy to install and they're 99.9 percent efficient.

A drawback is they create a lot of moisture. "You don't want to put them in a small room because of the moisture problem."

Jeff Cleveland, marketing manager for Empire Heating Systems, an Illinois company that includes ventless systems among its products, said they are intended to be a supplemental source of heat and they work best if there's a forced-air heating system that's moving air through the house. If you have a typical (furnace) that changes the air inside your house every six hours, running a vent-free heater is not an issue, he said.

The more airtight your home, however, the more likely moisture could be an issue.

E-MAIL: kclayton@desnews.com