2012-12-14 / In the Know

Holiday fire safety tips for homeowners

By B. Michael Thurlow Special contributor

This time of year it is particularly important that we all adhere to good fire safety practices.

Decorating homes and businesses is a long-standing tradition during the holiday season but unfortunately those same decorations may increase the chance for fire.

According to the National Fire Protection Agency, there are approximately 240 home fires involving Christmas trees and another 150 house fires attributed to holiday lights and other decorations each year. Together, these fires result in an average of 21 deaths and more than $25 million in direct property damage.

Following some very basic fire safety tips can significantly reduce these types of incidents and save a family from the devastation of a tragic and unnecessary loss. This is a great time of year to review fire safety with children and elderly or disabled family members.

Make sure all the exits from a home are accessible and not blocked by decorations, trees, presents, trip hazards or snow and ice.

Christmas trees are a beautiful tradition, but live trees need to be handled properly. Resist putting them up too early so they don’t dry out before Christmas.

When purchasing a tree, make sure it is fresh by checking the needles to make sure they don’t easily fall or are pulled out, a sure sign the tree was harvested too long ago.

Make sure to keep live trees watered at least once a day. When you notice the tree isn’t absorbing water any longer, that it is a good indication it is drying out and is becoming unsafe.

Electrical hazards are another major concern this time of year. Strings of lights should be installed according to the directions and limited in length to avoid overheating the electrical circuit.

Cords should be checked for any damage. Be careful when hanging lights not to damage the insulation on the wire, or to overload electrical circuits. Avoid the use of extension cords when possible and always use a properly sized and grounded cord that has been tested by UL or one of the other independent testing labs.

When preparing your holiday meal, be sure to keep combustible materials away from the stove. Make sure you have a properly charged fire extinguisher in the kitchen and know how to extinguish a grease fire without using water. Make sure to test your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors once a month.

Avoid using lit candles if at all possible. There are many new products on the market that are battery operated and flameless, but look, smell and feel like real candles. Never put a lit candle on a tree. If you must use a real candle make sure it is in a stable holder and place them where they can’t be knocked down. Keep candles at least 12 inches away from anything that can burn, and never leave a room or go to bed with candles burning.

The holiday season is the time to reflect on our faith and enjoy family and friends. Spending a few minutes to assure our homes are fire safe and our loved ones are trained in what to do if a fire occurs will help to make sure we don’t contribute to the holiday tragedy statistics.

On behalf of all the members of the Scarborough Fire Department, I wish you and your families a very Merry Christmas and happy holiday season. If you have any questions on this article or any fire department issue you can contact me at mthurl@ci.scarborough.me.us or 730-4201.

B. Michael Thurlow is fire chief for Scarborough.

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