As the holidays approach, Great Bend residents are becoming increasingly excited about adorning their homes for the season. However, these decorations, as beautiful as they are, can also be a home fire hazard, Great Bend Fire Chief Mike Napolitano said.
“We want everyone to have a truly happy holiday season,” he said. “We just urge people to be safe and not spoil this wonderful time of year.”
Napolitano and the Kansas State Fire Marshall offered the following tips:
National estimates of reported home structure fires derived from the U.S. Fire Administration’s National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) and NFPA’s annual Fire Department Experience Survey show that in 2009-2013, Christmas trees were the item first ignited in an estimated average of 210 reported home structure fires per year, resulting in an annual average of seven civilian fire deaths, 19 civilian fire injuries, and $17.5 million in direct property damage.
• Look for flame-resistant artificial trees. Keep tree at least three feet away from heat sources.
• Ensure your natural tree is kept fresh in water throughout its recommended two-week life.
• Watch this video demonstrating how quickly a dried-out Christmas tree will burn compared to a well-watered tree: youtube.com/watch?v=RNjO3wZDVlA.
December is the peak time of year for home candle fires. In December, 11 percent of home candle fires began with decorations compared to 4 percent the rest of the year.
• Never leave a burning candle unattended.
• Make sure candles are in stable bases and have plenty of space around them. Place them where they cannot be easily knocked down or turned over.
• Flashlights or battery-powered lamps should be used during a power outage (not candles). Be sure to keep fresh batteries on-hand.
• Inspect holiday lights before using for frayed wires, bare spots, gaps in the insulation, or broken sockets.
• Only use lights that have been tested and labeled by a recognized testing laboratory.
• Avoid overloading – do not link more than three strands.
• Unplug decorative lights when leaving the home.
Cooking is, and has long been, the leading cause of home structure fires and home fire injuries, and according to the records collected from reporting fire departments in Kansas, home cooking fires increase significantly around the times of major holidays such as Christmas.
• Always stay in the kitchen while frying, grilling or broiling food. If you have to leave the kitchen for even a short period of time, turn off the stove. Have a lid handy to slide over a skillet or pot that has caught on fire.
• Keep things that can catch fire such as oven mitts, wooden utensils, food packaging, towels and curtains away from the cooking area.
Heating and fireplaces
During the holidays, a nice roaring fire in the fireplace can add to the season ambience, but can also increase the chances of a home fire. The use of portable space heaters also increases significantly during the colder months, which is also a major cause of home fires. Half of all home heating fires occurred in December, January and February.
• Make sure the fireplace has a sturdy screen to stop sparks from flying into the room. Ashes should be cool before putting them in a metal container. Keep the container a safe distance away from your home.
• Keep anything that can burn at least three feet away from heating equipment, like the furnace, fireplace, wood stove, or portable space heater.
• Have a three-foot “kid-free zone” around open fires and space heaters.
• Have heating equipment and chimneys cleaned and inspected every year by a qualified professional.
• Remember to turn portable heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed.
• Working smoke alarms should be a priority at any time of the year.
• Test smoke alarms monthly to ensure they are functioning properly and replace outdated smoke alarms with units featuring 10-year sealed lithium batteries.