Between rising utility costs and shrinking incomes, more people are exploring alternate means of heating their homes. However, when folks misuse electric appliances or are careless around open flames they risk starting fires. Local fire investigators offered these tips for keeping safe this Christmas and all winter long.
Gum Branch Fire Chief Thomas Fisher said he has seen residents use everything from propane and space heaters to fireplaces to keep warm in cold weather. And some people light a lot of candles for holiday décor or for religious practices at this time of year, he said.
“Candles can be dangerous around young children,” Fisher said. “They can reach for these and their bodies don’t have the reaction time to feel pain to know to pull away (fast) once burned.”
If using candles for a prayer service or for decoration light them in an open space and be sure they are spill and tip proof, Hinesville Fire Investigator Rick Perryman said. He stressed adults should supervise children if they are lighting and/or holding candles for church or home ceremonies.
“We have people here who come from all over the world and put lit candles on their Christmas trees,” Perryman continued. “People don’t always keep trees moistened; dry trees can go up in smoke.”
Fisher advises families should not leave a live Christmas tree up too long as these can easily burn when dry.
“Once needles start coming off it is time to get rid of the tree,” he said. “Make sure it has plenty of water if it’s a real tree.”
“When people decide to go to bed or go out, go ahead and unplug the cord from the wall for the lights on the tree,” Perryman suggested. “If trees are going to be lit, make sure somebody is there to watch them.”
Perryman and Fisher both suggested homeowners make certain the holiday lights they use are safety certified for home use.
“Make sure they have the underwriter laboratory [UL] seal on them,” Fisher said.
Perryman said consumers should be aware if they order lights on the Internet because lights made in other countries may not have the same industry safety standards as do factories in the U.S.
“And don’t use indoor lights on the outside, they can get shorted out from moisture,” he added.
The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) also lists helpful holiday safety tips on the organization’s website, www.usfa.dhs.gov.
USFA suggests homeowners inspect holiday lights each year for frayed wires, bare spots, gaps in the insulation, broken or cracked sockets and excessive kinking or wear before stringing them up. “Do not link more than three light strands, unless the directions indicate it is safe,” advises USFA. “Connect strings of lights to an extension cord before plugging the cord into the outlet. Make sure to periodically check the wires – they should not be warm to the touch.”
Fisher and Perryman said a lot of fires are caused by simple carelessness around space heaters.
Perryman said newer space heaters come with a “tip” switch. If a space heater is knocked over the switch will “click” and the heater will go off, he said.
Even space heaters with a tip switch should be kept away from curtains, bed linens and clothing, Perryman said.
“Turn them off when you’re not in the room,” Fisher said. “And never plug a space heater into an extension cord. You should plug it directly into an outlet.”
He added consumers should match the thickness of an extension cord to the thickness of an appliance’s cord.
“’Always follow the manufacturer’s directions,” Perryman advised.
If using kerosene or other oils for heating don’t refuel them while they’re hot, he added.
“[Install] a carbon monoxide detector if you use fuels to heat a home,” Perryman said. “A smoke detector does not do the same thing as a carbon monoxide detector. These can be found in most stores. Also, check batteries in smoke detectors to make sure they’re working properly.”
Adults should also monitor fireplace use, the fire chief and investigator said.
“Make sure the flue is open and the chimney has been cleaned,” Fisher said. “Don’t burn anything other than hard woods. Oak or maple is fine. Pine isn’t; pine wood has a lot of resin which when burned can build up in your chimney.”
“Keep the Christmas tree and gifts well away from the fireplace,” Perryman said. “And keep a five pound ABC fire extinguisher nearby.”