Annapolis and Anne Arundel County has seen some devastating holiday fires in the last 2 years. The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) reports more than double the number of fires on Christmas Day than on an average day, and about twice as many on New Year’s Day.
When those fires occur the number of fatalities per thousand fires is nearly 70% higher. And when the source of the fire is a highly flammable Christmas tree, the toll in property and lives is even greater.
To keep your household from becoming a holiday fire statistic, here are some safety tips to follow.
Cooking is the top cause of holiday fires and it is usually food that’s left unattended. It’s easy to get distracted; take a pot holder with you when you leave the kitchen as a reminder that you have something on the stove. Make sure to keep a kitchen fire extinguisher that’s rated for all types of fires, and check that smoke detectors are working.
The incidence of candle fires is four times higher during December than during other months. According to the National Fire Protection Association, four of the five most dangerous days of the year for residential candle fires are Christmas/Christmas Eve and New Year’s/New Year’s Eve. (The fifth is Halloween.)
To reduce the danger, maintain about a foot of space between the candle and anything that can burn. Set candles on sturdy bases or cover with hurricane globes. Never leave flames unattended. Before bed, walk through each room to make sure candles are blown out. For atmosphere without worry, consider flameless LED candles.
It takes less than 30 seconds for a dry tree to engulf a room in flames. To minimize risk, buy a fresh tree with intact needles, get a fresh cut on the trunk, and water it every day. A well-watered tree is almost impossible to ignite. Keep the tree away from heat sources, such as a fireplace or radiator, and out of traffic patterns. Watch out for live garlands and other greenery! Keep them at least three feet away from heating sources.
No matter how well the tree is watered, it will start to dry out after about four weeks. Take it down after the holidays. Artificial trees don’t pose much of a fire hazard; just make sure yours is flame-retardant.
Inspect light strings, and throw out any with frayed or cracked wires or broken sockets. When hanging lights outside, avoid using nails or staples, which can damage the wiring and increase the risk of a fire. Instead, use UL-rated clips or hangers. And take lights down within 90 days, says John Drengenberg, director of consumer safety for Underwriters Laboratories. “If you leave them up all year round, squirrels chew on them and they get damaged by weather.”
Kids Playing with Matches
The number of deaths caused by children playing with fire goes up significantly during the holidays. Keep matches and lighters out of kids’ reach. A match or lighter could be more deadly than a loaded gun in the hands of a small child.
Soot can harden on chimney walls as flammable creosote, so before the fireplace season begins, have your chimney inspected to see if it needs cleaning. Screen the fireplace to prevent embers from popping out onto the floor or carpet, and never use flammable liquids to start a fire in the fireplace. Only burn seasoned wood — no wrapping paper.
When cleaning out the fireplace, put embers in a metal container and set them outside to cool for 24 hours before disposal.
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