Make holiday safety a priority

Put freeze on winter home fires

By Barbara Pierce

Home fires are dangerous no matter when they happen, but they become more common as the temperature dips.

Based on the information mentioned on this page, home fires increase in winter months with peaks in December and January. Fires are a major cause of injury and death at home.

Fire is fast. In less than 30 seconds a small flame can turn into a major fire. It only takes minutes for thick black smoke to fill a house or for it to be engulfed in flames.

Fire is hot. In just two minutes, a fire can become life threatening. In three minutes, the heat from a house fire can reach over 1,100 degrees. In rooms that are not even on fire, the temperature can reach over 300 degrees, hot enough to melt plastic and kill people in those rooms. In five minutes, a residence can be engulfed in flames. Because many items in homes today are made of synthetic materials, if they catch fire, they burn very quickly.

Fire is deadly. Smoke and toxic gases kill more people than flames do. Fire produces poisonous gases that make you disoriented and drowsy. Asphyxiation is the leading cause of fire deaths.

“This time of the year, there are three major things to keep in mind when it comes to keeping you and your loved ones safe from fire: space heaters, Christmas trees, and chimneys,” said Lieutenant Richard Roberts of the East Herkimer Fire Department.

Space heaters when not used properly can be dangerous. During winter months, heating equipment is the leading cause of home fires.

Roberts suggests what you can do to prevent fire caused by a space heater:

— Inspect heaters for cracked or broken plugs or loose connections before each use. If frayed, worn or damaged, do not use the heater.

— Never leave a space heater unattended. Turn it off when you’re leaving a room or going to sleep.

— Don’t let pets or children play close to a space heater.

— Proper placement of space heaters is important. Keep them at least three feet away from anything that can burn, including papers, clothing and rugs.

— They should be plugged directly into a wall outlet. Do not use an extension cord or power strip, which could overheat and result in a fire. Do not plug any other electrical devices into the same outlet as the heater.

— Place space heaters on level, flat surfaces. Never place heaters on cabinets, tables, furniture, or carpet, which can overheat and start a fire.

Trees can be dangerous

Christmas trees and decorations make us feel the magic of Christmas, but decorations, especially trees and candles, increase the risk of fire.

“The Christmas season is when everyone likes to decorate their houses and trees,” said Thomas Iacovissi, chief of the Rome Fire Department.

Here are simple precautions that can make all the difference:

— Never use lighted candles around a Christmas tree. Christmas, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are the top days for candle fires. Keep candles away from your Christmas tree, furniture and décor. Never leave a burning candle unattended. Consider using battery-operated flameless candles.

— If you’re putting up a real tree, be sure it is a fresh tree with green needles that don’t fall off when touched.

— Before placing the tree in the stand, cut off at least two inches from the base of trunk.

— Keep the tree three feet from any heat source.

— Make sure the tree is watered daily.

— Only use lights that are U.L. (Underwriters Laboratories) listed; never use lights that are frayed or worn. Never string more than three cords together.

— Always turn lights off before going to bed or leaving the house.

— Choose decorations that are flame resistant or retardant.

— Dispose of the tree when it’s dry.

— If you purchase an artificial tree, make sure it’s labeled “fire resistant.”

“Chimney fires happen due to buildup of creosote on the inside of the chimney; creosote is very flammable,” said Roberts. “To prevent a chimney fire, every year before you use your fireplace, have it cleaned and inspected by a professional.”

— Before starting a fire, make sure the flue is open and remove anything that might catch flame from the area.

— Protect the opening with a screen to keep flying embers in and children and pets out.

— Don’t leave a lighted fireplace unattended.

— Don’t toss wrapping paper in the fireplace; it can start a flash fire. Don’t put tree branches or needles in the fireplace.

— Dispose of the ashes safely. Store cooled ashes in a tightly covered metal container and keep the container outside, at least 10 feet away from your house.

Cooking is another leading cause of home fires.

— Keep flammable items such as grocery bags and kitchen towels away from the stove and oven.

— Clean up greasy spills as you go.

— Don’t leave cooking unattended.

— Most importantly, make sure you have working smoke alarms. The vast majority of fires happen in homes without a working smoke alarm.

“All of these precautions save lives,” concluded Roberts.