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7 ways to stay safe this holiday season

POSTED: November 30, 2017 1:19 a.m.
Garth Haslem/

This is the wrong way to vent your fireplace flues.

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Christmas can be a magical time of year: holly and lights, food and laughter, chocolates and pies around every corner. It can also have a more sinister side, as grandma’s house (or your own) isn’t always ready for conditions that come this time of year.

Here are some things to be aware of to help you and your family stay safe this year.

Combustible Christmas trees

Does grandma have a real tree? It’s just better when Christmas has a smell of pine and then when you vacuum the needles, you get a huge dose of Christmas all over again. You can enjoy the perfectness that is the imperfect tree.

But have you ever seen a pine tree on fire? They don’t just burn, they explode. They go from beautiful to bonfire in just a few seconds. All it takes to turn warm and bright into a towering treetop terror is an ugly electrical splice or any open flames near the tree. Tree fires cause an annual 200 home fires per year, with an average of six deaths, 16 injuries, and $14.8 million in direct property damage annually.

The spiderific dungeon

It's time to go yank out the holiday decorations. That wreath has been down there for a year now, and there’s a good chance that something else has decided to call it home. Whether those decorations include a wreath, tinsel, maybe the old fake tree, or even just the outdoor lights, it all looked like the perfect nesting spot to a critter last February. Since Valentine's Day, your Christmas décor may have been home to several rodents.

Utah’s most dangerous spiders are the black widow and the funnel web spider. If you get bit by one of these, things can get ugly. These bites can result in death (although it's rare) and other painful side effects.

Protect yourself as you’re digging into boxes and protect yourself as you’re moving them around. At minimum, gloves are a good idea. It may also be a good idea to bug bomb your basement before you enter the critter cavern, and by all means, be aware as you’re moving through the webs.

Burning firewood

Oh the joys of a real fireplace! But by now you know it doesn't always stay that way. If you have creosote in your fireplace flue, a hot fire can light the creosote again. Now instead of having a fire in your fireplace, you also have a chimney fire. The next step is a fire in your attic, and then your home burns down.

Another thing to be aware of is that as you bring the wood into your fireplace, you could bother nesting critters. Once again, they think that’s their space now, and you’re not welcome. Sometimes the inhabitants are biting critters, and sometimes they sting, but they’re never happy about being placed in or near the fire.

Anti-tip bracket

Here is the scene: the roast is in the oven and the potatoes are on to boil. It’s almost time to make the gravy. The warmth and smells make the kitchen a magical place, and everyone is at their happiest.

This scene invites little Johnny into the kitchen as well. He wants to see what's cooking on the stove so he pulls down the oven door like a stepping stool, and steps on it to look at the potatoes. Suddenly the stove tips, and the boiling water is all over little Johnny. Good feelings are gone, and the family will spend the rest of the season in the hospital, waiting for the latest word from the doctor.

What can prevent this? There is an unremarkable little chunk of metal — a bracket — that you can screw to the floor that prevents the stove and oven from tipping. Most of us wouldn’t even know what it was. But when the stove wants to tip, that bracket is a lifesaver.

To see if your home has it or if grandma’s does just try to tip the stove forward. Do it while everything is off and the stove is cold. If you can tip the stove, little Johnny can do it too so make sure to install an anti-tip bracket.

Carbon monoxide in the garage

Here’s a non-surprise: it’s cold in the winter. Some of us like to warm our car up in the garage before we go face the travails of getting to grandma’s house. If you like having your car warm when you get in, nobody will blame you for that. Just be aware that your car exhaust is a huge source for carbon monoxide.

If you turn on the car and leave the garage door down so that it doesn't get stolen, you have just created a death trap. The carbon monoxide levels in the garage will be off the charts. Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports an average of 430 deaths per year due to carbon monoxide. Actual numbers may be much higher, as not all carbon monoxide poisoning deaths are properly attributed.

Police advise not to leave your vehicle running at all when you are not inside, due to a growing numbers of thefts.

The roof

Roofs can get ice dams and they can leak. Roof areas can also allow critters into the attic and the living space. Leaks cause mold and rodent feces can cause toxic chemicals which do bad things to your lungs. If the roof is dry and not too steep and you feel safe doing so, get on your roof and look around. Look for holes that can allow water or critters into places they shouldn’t go.

But if the roof has snow on it, it's not safe and you shouldn't attempt to get on it.

Merry and bright only happens when you and your family are not in a hospital. Make sure you are aware of any dangers and prevent them from happening this holiday season.
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