Beautifully decorated homes, both inside and out, are typical sights this time of year in Livonia. However, they also play a role in many home fires during the holiday season. Fires involving Christmas trees, decorative lights, as well as typical holiday activities like candles, cooking and fireplaces being lit, contribute to the risks associated with the holiday season.
I remember my mother-in-law telling me about lighting candles on her childhood Christmas tree. I am certainly glad that this tradition has changed, as it must have displaced many families around this time of year. There are still risks that we engage in during the holidays, but some simple preventative steps can help avoid negative consequences.
Fire departments in the United States respond to approximately 250 home fires each year that have been caused by Christmas trees. About half of them are caused by electrical problems, and about one-fourth of them result from a heat source that is too close to the tree. To avoid problems, make sure you place your tree away from heat sources, like fireplaces, space heaters and radiators. It should also be kept out of the path of emergency escape from the home so that it does not block people from exiting.
If you are looking for a real tree, choose a fresh tree where the needles don't fall off when touched. A fresh cut at the base of a tree should be made to aid in water absorption and retention, and it should be watered daily. Artificial trees should be labeled as fire-retardant.
Lights should also be labeled by an independent testing laboratory. Use indoor lights inside the home and outdoor lights outside. Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. Turn off the tree lights before leaving home or going to bed.
Stay in the kitchen when you are frying, grilling or broiling food. Since most cooking fires involve the stovetop, keep anything that can catch fire away from it, and be sure to turn off the stove when you leave the kitchen. If you are simmering, boiling, baking or roasting, check the food regularly, and use a timer to remind you to do just that. Keep children away from the cooking area when in use so they don't bump into it.
Candles are part of the decorations in many Livonia homes, and December is the peak month for home candle fires. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) statistics show that more than half of all candle fires start because the candle was too close to things that could catch fire. Keep candles at least one foot away from anything that can burn or blow into them, and remember to blow them out when you leave the room or go to bed. Use sturdy candle holders, and never allow children to burn candles in their bedrooms. Consider using flameless candles, which can look and smell just like real candles.
If you use your fireplace, it should be cleaned and inspected annually. When lighting a fire, be sure to move combustibles three feet away from the fire, and use the screen to keep in any sparks and embers.
Just a few simple tips for the holiday season can make for a great time. Celebrate with family and friends the fire-safe way!
Tom Kiurski is training coordinator for the Livonia Fire Department.