… to be mindful of these common fire starters
By Robin Jones
Westways November/December 2014
The holidays are a busy time—and that means people are often tired, preoccupied, and rushed. Combine that with all the decorating, baking, and entertaining that goes on, and it’s easy to see why the risk for home fires increases from Thanksgiving through New Year’s. Even a small fire can mean thousands of dollars in cleanup costs, and it would undoubtedly put a damper on the season. To keep your home and family safe, mind the three C’s that tend to cause the most fires during the holidays: candles, cooking, and Christmas trees.
Candles start two of every five home decoration fires, and December is the peak month for such incidents. If you use candles, place them in uncluttered spots, at least 12 inches away from flammable items, and make sure they’re in sturdy containers that won’t tip over.
Blow out any candles if you’re the last person to leave the room, and don’t let a candle burn to the bottom. Avoid using candles in bedrooms, where one-third of home candle fires begin; you might fall asleep before you remember to extinguish them. Better yet, use flameless candles, which look and smell like real candles these days.
Unattended cooking is the main cause of U.S. home fires and home fire injuries. If you like to bake or cook for friends and family, a few precautions can help you avoid starting a kitchen fire.
First, if you’re frying or grilling food, don’t leave the kitchen without turning off the heat, and remember to keep flammable items such as pot holders, wooden utensils, food packaging, and dish towels off the stovetop. If you’re using the oven or stovetop, set a timer to remind yourself it’s in use.
Second, keep a lid nearby when you’re cooking on the stovetop; you can smother a small grease fire by sliding the lid over the fire slowly, turning off the heat source, and leaving the lid in place until the pan has completely cooled. For a flame-up in the oven, turn off the heat and leave the oven door closed until the fire goes out. It’s also smart to keep a dry-chemical Class B or Class ABC fire extinguisher in the kitchen to put out small grease fires. Never use water; it could cause splattering and spread the fire.
If the fire is big, don’t try to fight it. Get everyone out of the house, close the door behind you to contain the flames, and call 911.
While indoor tree fires aren’t that common, when they do happen, they can be serious; on average, one of every 40 home Christmas tree fires results in a death.
These fires are more likely to occur when the tree is too close to a heat source, so keep it at least 3 feet away from fireplaces, radiators, space heaters, candles, or heat vents. Electrical problems are another major cause of tree fires, so inspect lights before you use them, and toss them if they’re frayed or broken or have loose bulbs. Also, check the manufacturer’s recommendation on the box to determine how many strings of lights can safely be connected.
If you use an artificial tree, make sure it’s labeled fire-retardant. If you decorate with a fresh tree, check the needles before you buy it to make sure they’re not dry; once you get the tree home, water it daily. No matter what kind of tree you have, always turn off the decorative lights before you go to bed or leave home—you don’t want to be asleep or away from the house if they short out and cause a fire.