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December 11, 2009


Fort McCoy Fire Department offers tips
to help prevent holiday fire dangers

For most of us, the holiday season represents a time for family festivities and good cheer. What few of us consider is that the holiday season is a time when there is an increased risk of home fires. According to the Fort McCoy Fire Department, many households engage in holiday activities that serve as some of the leading causes of U.S. home fires, including cooking. Christmas trees, candle usage and holiday decorations also significantly contribute to the seasonal causes of home fires. Add to that the hectic nature of the holidays, when people are trying to accomplish multiple tasks at one time, and the chance for home fires grows even further.

“As everyone gets busier during the holidays, we often become rushed, distracted or tired,” says Curt Ladwig, fire protection inspector with the Fort McCoy Fire Department. “That’s when home fires are more likely to occur.”

Fortunately, with a little added awareness and some minor adjustments to holiday cooking and decorating, the season can remain festive and safe for everybody. “By taking some preventative steps and following simple rules of thumb, most home fires can be prevented,” said Ladwig.

With unattended cooking as the leading cause of U.S. home fires and home fire injuries, Ladwig says to stay in the kitchen while you’re frying, grilling or broiling food.

Most cooking fires involve the stovetop, so keep anything that can catch fire away from it, and turn off the stove when you leave the kitchen, even if it’s for a short period of time. If you’re simmering, boiling, baking or roasting food, check it regularly and use a timer to remind you that you’re cooking. The Fort McCoy Fire Department also suggests creating a “child-free zone” of at least three feet around the stove and areas where hot food and drinks are prepared and carried.

Candles are widely used in homes throughout the holidays, and December is the peak month for home candle fires. The nonprofit National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) statistics indicate more than half of all candle fires start because the candles had been too close to things that could catch fire.

The Fort McCoy Fire Department encourages Fort McCoy residents to consider using flameless candles, which look and smell like real candles. However, if you do use traditional candles, keep them at least 12 inches away from anything that can burn, and remember to blow them out when you leave the room or go to bed. Use candle holders that are sturdy, won’t tip over and are placed on uncluttered surfaces. Avoid using candles in the bedroom where two out of five U.S. candle fires begin or other areas where people may fall asleep. Lastly, never leave a child alone in a room with a burning candle.

According to NFPA, U.S. fire departments annually respond to an average of 250 structure fires caused by Christmas trees. Nearly half of them are caused by electrical problems, and one in four resulted from a heat source that’s too close to the tree.

The Fort McCoy Fire Department offers the following advice for picking, placing and lighting the tree:
       • If you have an artificial tree, be sure it’s labeled, certified or identified as fire-retardant by the manufacturer.
       • If you choose a fresh tree, make sure the green needles don’t fall off when touched; before placing it in the stand, cut   one- to two- inches from the base of the trunk. Add water to the tree stand, and be sure to water it daily.
       • Don’t place the tree where it would block an exit, and ensure the tree is at least three feet away from any heat source.
       • Use lights that have the label of an independent testing laboratory, and make sure you know whether they are designed for indoor or outdoor use.
       • Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords, or loose bulb connections. Connect no more than three
strands of mini-string sets and a maximum of 50 bulbs for screw-in bulbs.
       • Never use lit candles to decorate the tree.
       • Always turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving the home or going to bed.
       • Get rid of the tree after Christmas. Dried-out trees are a fire hazard and should not be left in the home or garage, or placed outside the home.
       • Bring outdoor electrical lights inside after the holidays to prevent hazards. This also helps them last longer.

By following these fire prevention tips and measures, the Fort McCoy Fire Department says you can greatly reduce the risk of fire in your home, and enjoy a safe holiday season. “The holidays quickly can turn from joyful to tragic when a fire occurs,” Ladwig said. “By taking simple precautions, people can avoid potential fire hazards, and make this time of year a healthy and happy one.”

(Submitted by Fort McCoy Fire Department.)


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