Local fire officials typically respond to more emergency calls during the Christmas holiday than any other time of the year and have issued some tips to help keep residents safe during their celebrations.
Many households engage in holiday activities that serve as some of the leading causes of U.S. home fires, including cooking, Christmas trees and candle usage, said Danville Fire Marshal Ken Pflug. Holiday decorations also contribute significantly to the seasonal causes of home fires.
“As everyone gets busier during the holidays, we often become rushed, distracted or tired,” said Pflug. “That’s when home fires are more likely to occur. By taking some preventative steps and following simple rules of thumb, most home fires can be prevented.”
- Unattended cooking is the leading cause both locally and nationally of preventable residential fires during the holiday season, said Pflug. Kentucky Fire Marshal William Swope recommends the following cooking safety tips:
- If you are sleepy or have consumed alcohol, don’t cook.
- Stay in the kitchen while you are frying, grilling or broiling food. If you leave the kitchen for even a short period of time, turn off the stove.
- If you are simmering, baking, roasting or boiling food, check it regularly.
- Remain in the home while food is cooking and use a timer to remind you that you are cooking.
- Keep anything that can catch fire, such as oven mitts, wooden utensils, food packaging, towels or curtains, away from your stovetop.
- Keep loose sleeves and other clothing away from the stovetop.
About 50 percent of holiday-related fires are caused by candles, Pflug said. Officials urge residents to consider “flameless” candles.
“But if you use traditional candles, keep them at least 12 inches away from anything that can burn, and blow them out when you leave the room or go to bed,” said Swope. “Never leave a child alone in a room with a burning candle.”
Overloaded electrical outlets are another key cause of holiday fires in the region, said Boyle County Fire Chief Donnie Sexton. The Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center in Lexington recommends the following precautions regarding electrical outlets:
- Never overload wall sockets or extension cords with excessive appliances. Too many appliance cords using electricity from one electrical outlet can increase the risk of fire.
- Routinely check your electrical appliances and wiring. Frayed wires can cause fires. Replace all worn, old and damaged appliance cords immediately.
- If an appliance has a three-prong plug, never force fit into a two-slot outlet or extension cord.
- Unplug unused appliances. When still plugged in an outlet, appliances carry a dangerous electrical charge.
Regularly watering live Christmas trees is another important step toward preventing residential fires, according to Sexton. Swope suggests people using live trees also adhere to the following guidelines:
- Choose a tree with fresh needles that do not fall off when touched.
- Before placing a tree in a stand, cut 1 to 2 inches from the base of the trunk.
- Place the tree at least three feet away from any heat source, including fireplaces, heat vents, radiators, candles and even lights.
- Use strings of light that have the label of an independent testing laboratory.
- Do not block exits with your Christmas tree.
- Do not use lit candles to decorate your tree.
- Always turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving home or going to bed.
- When needles begin dropping off your live tree, get rid of it.
“The holidays can quickly turn from joyful to tragic when a fire occurs,” said Pflug. ”By taking simple precautions, people can avoid potential fire hazards and make this time of year a healthy and happy one.”