When I asked Fire Chief Andy Weatherman to take on the column for December, I didn’t realize how easy it would be for him. There’s no timelier topic than holiday safety and I appreciate Chief Weatherman and Fire Marshal Ed Hodges sharing these important tips. And I wish you all a happy and safe holiday!
For some, the month of December is one of the most joyous times of the year; but for others it can be a sad time. Many residential fires start around Christmas. Between Dec. 24 and 26, an average of 12,600 fires occur in the United States annually, plus 205 reported injuries, 34 fatalities, and 92 million dollars in fire loss.
The causes vary — from Christmas trees not watered properly, to improper use of extension cords, candles left burning unattended and or other hazards overlooked in the home — especially in the kitchen.
Live Christmas trees are very pretty to look at, but if not cared for properly, they can be very dangerous. Allowing a live tree to go without water can be one of the most dangerous things in a home. Here’s how to know it needs water: look for shedding needles lying on the floor around the tree.
Once a tree dries out it cannot be rehydrated and the tree should immediately be removed from the home. If a dry tree catches fire, in less than 30 seconds the room could be completely involved, not allowing enough time to wake up and get out through the room where the tree is located.
Here are some tips about trees: If possible, the tree should be placed where it does not block an exit. To avoid a live tree from drying out, make about a half-inch slanted cut from the bottom of the tree to allow it to rehydrate. After a tree has been cut, the very bottom will dry out and water cannot feed up through the tree unless it is cut off at the bottom.
During the holidays, lots of people decorate with lights — both inside and outside. Overloading the electrical outlets and using the wrong extension cord in the wrong way can start a fire. Here are some tips: Make sure extension cords being used outside are designed for outside use. Check the manufactures listing for the use of each cord. Also, don’t overload extension cords. This could result in overheating which in turn could start a fire. Never run extension cords under rugs or through doorways which could cause damage to the insulation of the cords, and always unplug decorative lights before bedtime.
There’s nothing like a nice, warm fire at Christmas, but here are some safety tips to consider: Never hang stockings directly over the fire or near open flames. Even though the material is not touching the flames, enough heat could be generated to cause them to catch fire. Don’t burn wrapping paper in the fireplace; small particles of lit paper can float up the chimney and ignite the roof or travel to the yard and catch the grass on fire. The sparks can also blow out of the fireplace and start a fire in the room.
This is also the time of the year for Hanukkah, a celebration involving candles. The most important thing is that they are used in a safe manner. Tips for using candles include: Making sure candles are placed on a sturdy and fire-safe menorah. Place the menorah on a secure table, making sure nothing is too close to the flame. Avoid placing menorahs in small areas such as a window or a bookshelf. Keep the candles away from anything flammable. Check the candles often to make sure they haven’t burnt down too low. And never leave lit candles unattended. When you go out, blow out.
Lastly, be sure that every level in the house has a working smoke detector and check and clean it regularly. Create a home escape plan for the family and practice it! Don’t hesitate to contact the Statesville Fire Department at 704-878-3425 for any fire safety questions or advice.
Ron Smith is the city manager of Statesville and Ed Hodges is the fire marshal for the Statesville Fire Department.