Stoves, Trees Holiday Hot Spots For Fire Hazards

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According to Red Cross statistics, single-family house fires are the disaster the organization responds to most during the holiday season.

In the past two weeks, Payson has had three, and a local couple died in one of them.

National Fire Protection Association statistics reveal that fires associated with the period between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day injure 1,200 people and cause more than $25 million in damage each year.

This holiday season, Payson Fire Marshal Jack Babb doesn't want his home town to add to the national statistics.

"There are so many ways a fire can start this time of year, it's frightening," he said. "A little education could save a lot of lives."

Among the most common cause of household fires this time of year, Babb said, is unattended cooking.

"People are visiting families and they lose track of what they're doing in the kitchen. We've seen an awful lot of that in the past."

And as the end of the year approaches, Babb said, Christmas-tree caused fires become more common.

"What people do is overextend their electrical system with too many lights. That's a real danger. Also, it's important to make sure your lighting systems are U/L (Underwriter's Laboratory) approved for either indoor or outdoor use, depending on where it's going to be placed," he said.

But once any of the wiring has been damaged, Babb said, it automatically loses its UL listing and needs to be disposed of. He does not recommend repairing them.

Serious dangers are posed, too, by candles, "whether at home or in religious use. We really don't see that many fires from ceremonial use, but that's not to say it can't or won't happen."

Playing it safe

According to the National Fire Protection Association, safety precautions go a long way toward preventing holiday fires. People can greatly reduce their chances of becoming end-of-the-year fire casualties by following some of the association's fire-prevention tips.

Special fire safety precautions need to be taken when keeping a live tree in the house. A burning tree can rapidly fill a room with fire and deadly gases.

When selecting a fresh tree, the needles should be green and hard to pull back from the branches, and the needles should not break if the tree has been freshly cut. The trunk should be sticky to the touch. Old trees can be identified by bouncing the tree trunk on the ground. If many needles fall off, the tree has been cut too long, has probably dried out and is a fire hazard.

Do not place your tree close to a heat source, including a fireplace or heat vent. The heat will dry out the tree, causing it to be more easily ignited by heat, flame or sparks.

Be careful not to drop or flick cigarette ashes near a tree. Do not put your live tree up too early or leave it up for longer than two weeks. Keep the tree stand filled with water at all times.

When disposing of the tree, never put tree branches or needles in a fireplace or wood-burning stove. When the tree becomes dry, discard it promptly. The best way to dispose of your tree is by taking it to a recycling center or having it hauled away by a community pick-up service.

Maintain and inspect holiday lights each year for frayed wires, bare spots, gaps in the insulation, broken or cracked sockets and excessive kinking or wear before putting them up. Use only lighting listed by an approved testing laboratory.

Don't link more than three light strands, unless the directions indicate it is safe. Connect strings of lights to an extension cord before plugging the cord into the outlet. Make sure to periodically check the wires they should not be warm to the touch.

Finally, as in every season, have working smoke alarms installed on every level of your home, test them monthly and keep them clean and equipped with fresh batteries at all times. Know when and how to call for help, and develop and practice a home escape plan.

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