With chilly weather and the holidays approaching, the risk of fire increases exponentially due to use of heaters, candles and decorative lighting. State and local public safety authorities suggest safety tips when dealing with heat sources, Christmas trees and electrical devices.
While there have been no fires caused by hearing sources so far this year in Statesboro and Bulloch County, both Statesboro Fire Chief Tim Grams and Bulloch County Fire Chief Christopher Ivey warn those using fire places or space heaters to be careful.
“We typically do have a handful (of fires caused by fireplaces or heaters) every year,” Grams said. However, the cold weather has just begun, and the coldest months lie ahead. “We haven’t had any yet. We have been blessed and hope it stays that way,” Ivey said.
Space heaters are a common culprit when it comes to house fires. Those that use fuels such as kerosene are especially dangerous and should be filled outside. Spills often result in burned carpets and worse, Ivey said.
Other space heaters can be hazardous, too. Grams suggested keeping them away from flammable items such as furniture and curtains.
He also warned against overloading electrical sockets with too many cords. Sometimes, holiday decorations require numerous electrical cords, and placing too many on one socket via power strips can cause fires, he said.
Natural Christmas trees can also be fire hazards if they aren’t kept watered. Georgia Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner Ralph Hudgens recommends checking trees for freshness by holding a branch about six inches from the tip and pulling your hand toward the tip, allowing the branch to slip through your fingers. “If the Christmas tree is fresh, very few green needles will come of,” he said. “Also:, lift the tree off the ground and tap the stump on the ground. Again, very few needles should fall off.”
Keeping the tree watered once it is in the hoe and decorated is important, Grams said. “Keep it away from flames” such as fireplaces. Hudgens suggests placing trees in stands that won’t topple.
Even the lights on the tree – or elsewhere – can cause heat that could ignite combustibles, he said. “Decorations such as lights and candles can make the holiday season more enjoyable, but they can also become fire hazards if not used with caution. Celebrations can quickly turn into tragedies if you aren’t careful.”
Bulloch County Public Safety Director Ted Wynn reminds people to make sure homes using fireplaces and fuel-driven heaters are well ventilated. “Keep chimneys clean – chimney fires are a real thing,” he said.
And the holidays are a good time to change smoke alarm batteries and air conditioner filters, Ivey said. Clogged filters “can cause smoke and an odor as if something was burned and can set off smoke detectors.”
According to the National Fire Protection Agency, U.S. fire department responds on average more than 200 home fires started by Christmas trees per year. “These fire cause an average of six deaths and 16 injuries annually,” Hudgens said. “The leading causes of Christmas tree fires in the U.S. are electrical distribution or lighting equipment.”
He suggested buying lights labeled by a testing laboratory and checking for frayed or damaged cords. “For outside decorations, use only outdoor lights. Never use indoor lights outside. And always unplug all decorative lights before leaving home or going to bed.”
Other fire safety tips for the holidays include keeping stockings away from lighted fires in fireplaces and never burn wrapping paper in the fireplace because it can flare up and ignite creosote deposits in the flue, he said.
Herald reporter Holi Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.