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NLFD: keep your holidays from going up in flames

NORTH LIBERTY– For most of us, the holiday season represents a time for family festivities and good cheer. What few consider is the holiday season is a time when there is an increased risk of home fires. According to North Liberty Fire Department (NLFD), many households engage in holiday activities that serve as some of the leading causes of U.S. home fires, including cooking. Christmas trees, candle usage and holiday decorations significantly contribute to the seasonal causes of home fires. Add to that the hectic nature of the holidays, when people are trying to accomplish multiple tasks at one time, and the chance for home fires grows even further.
“As everyone gets busier during the holidays, we often become rushed, distracted or tired,” said Assistant Fire Chief Bryan Hardin of the NLFD. “That’s when home fires are more likely to occur.”
• Cooking fires account for almost half (41 percent) of home structure fires.
• Followed by heating fires at 28 percent.
• On average, each holiday season (from late November to early January) results in 11,600 fires requiring a fire dept response nationally.
• In those 11,600 fires, there is an average of 250 injuries and 40 fatalities.
Fortunately, with a little added awareness and some minor adjustments to holiday cooking and decorating, the season can remain festive and safe for everybody. “By taking some preventative steps and following simple rules of thumb, most home fires can be prevented,” said Hardin.
With unattended cooking as the leading cause of U.S. home fires and home fire injuries, Hardin reminded everyone to stay in the kitchen while 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 leaving the kitchen, even if it’s for a short period of time. When simmering, boiling, baking or roasting food, check it regularly and use a timer as a reminder you’re cooking.
The NLFD also suggests creating a “kid-free zone” of at least 3 feet around the stove and areas where hot food and drinks are prepared or carried.
Candles are widely used in homes throughout the holidays, and December is the peak month for home candle fires. The nonprofit National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) statistics show almost half of all home decoration fires are started by candles. Fire department officials encourage North Liberty residents to consider using flameless candles, which look and smell like real candles. If you do use traditional candles, keep them at least 12 inches away from anything flammable, and remember to blow them out when you leave the room or go to bed. Use sturdy candleholders that won’t tip over and are placed on uncluttered surfaces. Avoid using candles in the bedroom, where one-third of U.S. candle fires begin, or other areas where people may fall asleep. Lastly, never leave a child alone in a room with a burning candle.
In fires involving Christmas trees, the tree was the first item ignited. One out of every three of these fires was caused by electrical problems, and one in five resulted from a heat source too close to the tree. NLFD offers the following advice for picking, placing and lighting the tree:
• 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 two inches 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 lights that have the label of an independent testing laboratory and make sure you know whether they are designed for indoor or outdoor use.
• 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.
• Never use lit candles to decorate the tree.
• 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.
• Bring outdoor electrical lights inside after the holidays to prevent hazards and make them last longer.
By following these fire prevention tips and measure, you can greatly reduce the risk of fire in your home, and enjoy a safe holiday season.