Cold weather and holiday preparations lead to increased fire hazards as people bring live trees into their homes, plug extra lights into extension cords and power strips, and haul out space heaters for warmth.
Both Bulloch County Fire Chief Christopher Ivey and Statesboro Fire Chief Tim Grams reminded residents of the importance of not only being careful, but making sure your home has operational smoke detectors.
“It is very important to have working smoke detectors in your house,” Ivey said. Grams agreed, adding that fire departments remind people to check smoke detectors and batteries at least twice a year, when Daylight Savings Time ends and begins each spring and fall.
Georgia Safety Fire Commissioner John F. King shared alarming statistics regarding use of smoke detectors. “It is absolutely essential that every Georgia family has a properly working smoke detector in their home,” he said. “Ninety-one percent of residential fire deaths this year were in homes without working smoke alarms. The stats cannot be more clear: these devices can be the difference between life and death in an emergency.”
In 2019 so far, Georgia fires have claimed the lives of 77 people, with 64 of the fatalities occurring across 53 residential fires. Of the 53 residential fires, only five homes had working smoke alarms, King said.
As colder weather moves in, the use of space heaters increases. While kerosene heaters are not as popular as they once were, some may still use them, and sometimes people use wood stoves, fireplaces and electric space heaters to supplement or take place of other heat sources, Ivey said.
Newer space heaters have safety switches that cut off the heater when it is toppled over, but the older ones do not, he said. Often fires can start because a space heater is “too close to clothes or a bed.” Keeping such heaters at least three feet away from flammable surfaces is recommended, he said.
“With the colder weather, we need to take precautions,” Grams said. He warns against using space heaters unattended or overnight while sleeping.
“I cannot stress how important it is to practice extreme caution when using space heaters. Though these devices keep us warm and comfortable, they can be very dangerous if they are not used properly,” King said.
Live Christmas trees and power cords
Plugging a space heater into a power strip or extension cord is dangerous, Ivey said. The heaters draw a lot of power and the extension cords or power strips can be overheated and melt, possibly causing fires. It is also a good idea to inspect cords and wires regularly to ensure they are not frayed or damaged, he said.
If using a live Christmas tree, make sure it is watered daily, Grans said. Trees should be kept away from open fires or heat sources, and checked to make sure the needles are not dry and can ignite from a holiday light.
caution” with electric blankets and pads used for warming beds, too, he said.
“The older ones are problematic and could malfunction.” Ivey agreed, “Be
extremely careful when using them overnight.”
Being observant when filling fireplaces or wood stoves is a good practice as well, he said.
“Make sure your fireplace is cleaned and inspected at least once a year.”
Both Grams and Ivey reminded residents that assistance with fire safety education and smoke detectors can be obtained from the fire departments. The Statesboro Fire Department may be reached at (912) 764-3473 and the Bulloch County Fire Department may be contacted at (912) 489-1661.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.