P icture that idyllic holiday scene — roaring fire in the fireplace, gifts piled high under a glimmering and glowing Christmas tree, maybe some candles softly shimmering in the background on top of a table loaded with a big holiday bird. One or all of the features in this scene, however, can be a source of trouble if you’re not careful, according to village fire Chief Russ Bronson.
Bronson said simple steps can be taken to minimize risks associated with the holidays. “People just need to be careful,” the chief said. With an unexpected cold snap in December some might have delayed or forgotten to get some basic home maintenance done to their heat sources, whether it is a furnace or a woodstove or a fireplace.
“People tend to forget, when the weather stays warmer longer,” he said.
With the winter heating season truly arriving in the days before Christmas, a few things need to be considered.
“You’ve got to make sure your chimney’s clean; check for proper insulation or make sure your furnace has been cleaned,” Bronson said, noting that people sometimes end up burning wood that looks dry but is not seasoned, which leads to additional creosote buildup.
“If you’re burning wood, you’ve got to make sure it is properly dried,” he said.
While checking out that woodstove chimney pipe it’s also a good time to ensure the dampers work. “You don’t want a roaring fire in there,” he said. Be sure to look around the stove to ensure nothing is too close to it from furniture to holiday decorations, he added.
To help keep the family safe remember to change the batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. It’s always a good idea to tie the battery change date to a major holiday or birthday or anything that will help you remember, the chief said.
Bronson also said people need to remember that CO detectors are now required in homes and both types, separate units and combinations, should be changed about every five or six years or whatever their expected lifespan is. Smoke detector batteries should be checked about twice a year.
“Don’t skimp on any of that stuff because it’s your life you’re talking about,” he added.
Statistically, fires tend to surge around the holiday season as a number of contributing factors combine to make the holidays a time of increased risk.
A common cause of home fires that increases during the holidays involves fires from cooking. Although a house full of children or guests can be a distraction, Bronson said, people should stay with their cooking because the kitchen is the number-one place for home fires to start and unattended cooking is the chief reason for that statistic.
A popular way to prepare a turkey has become deep frying, but this method also carries some risks and requires some precautions.
Deep frying a turkey is an outdoor event and cookers need to realize flare-ups or boil- overs can occur during the cooking, especially at the beginning if the turkey has icicles on it.
Plenty of other risks can be avoided with a little planning and caution, Bronson said.
Overloaded electrical circuits, old Christmas tree wiring and lights and unattended candles are just a few of the things the chief said residents need to watch out for during the holiday season.
Take the time to get a good look at all of their holiday lights and extension cords, he said; check their condition and replace the ones in tough shape – don’t tape up that wire for the fifth time –replace it or don’t use it. Be sure to water your tree. “Keep it green; green trees are less likely to be affected by exposure to heat from lights or other sources,” Bronson said.
The newer type LED lights use considerably less power while producing much less heat that older conventional bulbs, providing another incentive to make the switch, Bronson said.
Residents should seriously consider the electrical load they plan to place on one of the plug-in power strips and purchase accordingly. Bronson said it would be ideal if everyone could purchase their power strips from a store where qualified personnel could answer any questions regarding the demands they have planned for the device.
“There’s a big difference between some of them,” Bronson said.
Bronson recommends using a surge protector type power strip with circuit breakers.
Should those breakers trip, he said, it is time to evaluate what is causing the problem to occur. “We’ve all done it, but it’s something we need to be aware of,” he said.
When in doubt about the condition of anything electrical, the best bet is to avoid taking a chance. “Just don’t risk it; it’s not worth it,” Bronson said.
Another low-tech hazard can be avoided with some caution and attention, Bronson said.
Thousands of fires are started by unattended candles each year, peaking in the month of December. They could have been avoided by ensuring the candles are not placed anywhere near flammable materials from the Christmas tree to curtains or paper towels, he said.
People should extinguish candles when leaving their home for any reason regardless of how long they expect to be gone and also before going to sleep, he said.
Aside from the increased dangers that come with the holiday season, Bronson said, it is crucial to remember home fire safety every day.
Have an escape route that the family has agreed upon and practiced, he said. And be aware that summertime route might not work during the winter so have a snow season fire escape plan and practice that just like you would during warm weather.