Throughout the holiday season when the chilly breeze is in the air, roadways are iced over, and snow is falling, there are many ways in which fires can be started in a person’s home. From lighting candles to putting up Christmas lights to burning logs of wood in a wood-burning fireplace, there are a myriad of ways in which a fire can begin and damage property or maybe even lives.
The Mississippi State Department of Health reminds citizens to practice good fire safety precautions this winter and holiday season.
According to MSDH, “Each year in the United States, fires occurring during the holiday season claim the lives of more than 400 people, injure 1,650 people and cause $990 million in damage. Emergency rooms nationwide treat approximately 12,500 people for holiday-related injuries each year. The causes of these injuries range from falls and fires to cuts and shocks from decorating trees and lights. Many of these injuries are preventable.”
New Albany Fire Department Assistant Chief Mark Whiteside said, “With winter quickly approaching and Christmas just days away it is a good time to remind everybody about fire safety during cold weather and the Christmas season. Each and every time the call comes in for a house fire during the holidays we say a quick prayer that when we arrive on the scene it will be false alarm. Nothing breaks our hearts more as a firefighter than to see a family lose life and property, or child’s Christmas ruined by fire.”
The following is a list of safety guidelines to follow:
- Take proper precautions when selecting a tree
- Be sure that it is safe to decorate your Christmas tree with lights before you do so. Christmas trees, even artificial ones, can be a source of fires in the home, but with the proper safety precautions your risk can be minimized.
- If you prefer a live tree, make sure you pick one that is fresh. The individual needles should not bend or break between the fingers if pulled from the branch. The branches should not lose many needles if you pick up and shake the tree. If many needles fall off, the tree has been cut too long, has probably dried out, and is a fire hazard. The stump of the tree should be sticky to the touch. Keep your tree supplied with plenty of water while it is displayed.
- If you are buying an artificial tree, be sure that it is marked “fire resistant” before you bring it home for decoration. Under no circumstances should a metallic tree be strung with lights due to potential electrocution hazards.
- Before you begin decorating, place your tree in an area away from fireplaces, furnaces, or open flames. A tree can heat up quickly and catch fire in such locations. Always use artificial lights, never real candles, to decorate your tree.
- Lights, ornaments, and candles can be hazardous
- If you are going to use holiday lights this Christmas, be sure to check first whether they’re made for inside or outside use, and look on the package to make sure that they’ve been tested for safety by an independent laboratory.
- Check every set of lights for frayed wires, cracked or loose bulbs and other potential defects. Do not attempt to repair these lights. Instead throw them out and replace them with a new set. Extension cords, if you use them, should only be used with a maximum of three standard sets of lights.
- Don’t overload electrical outlets or run extensions cords under carpets, across doorways, or near heaters. Be sure extension cords are not pinched behind or under furniture.
- If you plan to hang your lights outside, make sure that the area in which you intend to use them is both safe and secure. Hang the lights on trees, house supports or other firm surfaces, and make sure that they won’t be in contact with dry, flammable material like paper once they are lit. Use insulated staples or hooks to hold the lights in place.
- No matter how safe your lights may seem, never leave them lit without supervision and always extinguish them before bedtime.
- Avoid glass and other fragile ornaments if you have small children or pets. These can fall and shatter, creating a danger if they are stepped on or swallowed.
- Candles of any sort should be carefully placed away from flammable materials like paper, clothes, or combustible liquids before lighting. Always use stable nonflammable holders and put them out of reach of children or pets so they won’t be toppled over easily. Always extinguish candles or other flames when you are away or before you go to sleep.
- Never leave a stove or oven on unattended. Never leave food cooking unattended.
- The high cost of home heating fuels and utilities has caused many Americans to search for alternate sources of home heating. The use of wood burning stoves is growing and space heaters are selling rapidly, or coming out of storage. Fireplaces are burning wood and man made logs. All these methods of heating may be acceptable. They are however, a major contributing factor in residential fires. Only use the proper approved fuel for your heating source. Have your chimney or flue inspected and cleaned. Have your heating unit or source inspected and serviced by authorized, trained personnel. Please have an operating smoke and carbon monoxide detector installed.
Winter residential building fires result in an estimated average of 945 deaths, 3,825 injuries, and $1,708,000,000 in property loss each year. Fires in one- and two-family dwellings account for 67 percent of all winter residential building fires.
Winter residential building fires occur mainly in the early evening hours, peaking from 5 to 8 p.m.