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. Many households engage in holiday activities that serve as some of the leading causes of U.S. home fires. Additionally, most of the holiday season involves lower temperatures which results in an increase in heating equipment fires.
Columbia Fire Chief Aubrey D. Jenkins says, “By taking some preventative steps and following simple rules of thumb, most home fires can be prevented.”
In 2011 nationwide, heating equipment resulted in more than 53,600 reported U.S. home structure fires, with associated loss of 400 civilian deaths, more than 1,520 civilian injuries and roughly $890 million in direct property damage per year. Almost half of home heating equipment fires are reported during the months of December, January, and February. Some simple steps can prevent most heating-related fires from happening.
- All heaters need space. Keep things that can burn, such as paper, bedding or furniture, at least 3 feet away from heating equipment.
- Use heating equipment that has the label of a recognized testing laboratory.
- Turn space heaters off when you leave a room or go to sleep.
- Have a qualified professional install stationary space heating equipment, water heaters or central heating equipment.
- Make sure all fuel-burning equipment is vented to the outside to avoid carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. CO poisoning can cause illness and even death, so install and maintain carbon monoxide alarms inside your home.
- Maintain heating equipment and chimneys by having them cleaned and inspected annually by a qualified professional.
- Always use a metal mesh screen with fireplaces. Leave glass doors open while burning a fire.
- Keep air inlets on wood stoves open, and never restrict air supply to fireplaces. Otherwise you may cause creosote buildup that could lead to a chimney fire.
With unattended cooking as the leading cause of U.S. home fires and home fire injuries, the Columbia Fire Department encourages citizens 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 a fire does occur follow these tips:
- Just get out! When you leave, close the door behind you to help contain the fire.
- Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number after you leave.
- If you try to fight the fire, be sure others are getting out and you have a clear way out.
- Keep a lid nearby when you’re cooking to smother small grease fires. Smother the fire by sliding the lid over the pan and turn off the stovetop. Leave the pan covered until it is completely cooled.
- For an oven fire, turn off the heat and keep the door closed.
The Columbia Fire Department offers the following advice for picking, placing and lighting the tree as well as decorating around the home:
- If you have an artificial tree, be sure it’s labeled, certified or identified by the manufacturer as fire-retardant.
- If you choose a fresh tree, make sure the green needles don’t fall off when touched; before placing it in the stand, cut 1-2” from the base of the trunk. Add water to the tree stand, and be sure to water it daily.
- Make sure the tree is not blocking an exit, and is at least three feet away from any heat source, like fireplaces, space heaters, radiators, candles and heat vents or lights.
- Use clips, not nails, to hang lights so the cords do not get damaged.
- 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.
- Always turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving the home or going to bed.
- After Christmas, get rid of the tree. Dried-out trees are a fire hazard and should not be left in the home or garage, or placed outside the home.
Candles are widely used in homes throughout the holidays, and December is the peak month for home candle fires. The Columbia Fire Department encourages residents to consider using flameless candles, however if you do use traditional candles, keep them at least 12” away from anything that can burn, and remember to blow them out when you leave the room or go to bed. Avoid using candles in the bedroom and never leave a child alone in a room with a burning candle.
By following these fire prevention tips and measures you can greatly reduce the risk of fire in your home, and enjoy a safe holiday season. “By taking simple precautions, residents can avoid potential fire hazards, and make this time of year a healthy and happy one,” says Chief Jenkins.