Tree safety is paramount during Christmas season
November 29, 2012
Each year, fires from Christmas decorations during the holiday season claim lives, cause injuries and millions of dollars in damage.
Many of these fires could have been prevented if people took simple precautions, according to Fort Belvoir Fire and Emergency Services officials.
Live trees require special care and residents need to take extra fire safety precautions when keeping a live tree in the house.
A burning tree can rapidly fill a room with fire and deadly gasses, according to John Weaver, Fort Belvoir Fire and Emergency Services fire marshal.
"When selecting a tree for the holiday," said Weaver, "needles should be green and hard to pull back from the braches, and should not break if the tree has been freshly cut. The trunk should be sticky to the touch."
You can identify old trees by bouncing the tree trunk on the ground, said Weaver. If many needles fall off, the tree has probably dried out and is a fire hazard.
Residents should not put their live tree up too early or leave it up for longer than two weeks. Tree stands should be filled with water at all times, and do not place your tree close to a heat source, including a fireplace or heat vent. Also, be careful not to drop or flick cigarette ashes near a tree.
If you are using a metallic or artificial tree make sure it is flame retardant.
Proper disposal of the tree also helps prevent fires and injuries.
"Never put tree branches or needles in a fireplace or wood-burning stove," said Weaver. "When the tree becomes dry, discard it promptly. The best way to dispose of your tree is by taking it to a recycling center or having it hauled away by a community pick up services."
Light checks are essential to keeping your house safe, so residents need to check their lights for frayed wires, bare spots, gaps in the insulation, broken or cracked sockets, and excessive kinking or wear before putting them up. Use only lighting listed by an approved testing laboratory.
Once the inspection is done, be sure not to overload any electrical outlets in your home.
"Do not link more than three light strands unless the directions indicate it is safe," said Weaver. "Connect strings of lights to an extension cord before plugging the cord into the outlet. Make sure to periodically check the wires. They should not be warm to the touch."
Using safe, nonflammable decorations is another way to keep your Christmas holiday emergency-free.
All decorations should be nonflammable or flame retardant and placed away from heat vents. Never put wrapping paper in a fireplace, it can throw off dangerous sparks and produce a chemical buildup in the home that could cause an explosion.
Residents need to be mindful of where they put their space heaters and what they put around it. Heating equipment is one of the leading causes of home fires during winter months.
Keep anything that can burn at least three feet away from heating equipment like the furnace, fireplace, wood stove or portable space heater.
"Have a three-foot 'kid-free zone' around open fires and space heaters," said Weaver. "Have heating equipment and chimneys cleaned and inspected every year by a qualified professional. Remember to turn portable heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed."
As in every season, it's important to have working smoke alarms installed on every level of your home. Be sure to test them monthly and keep them clean and equipped with fresh batteries at all times.
Also, know when and how to call for help, and remember to practice your home escape plan.
For more information about Holiday Safety in your home or office, contact the Fort Belvoir Fire Marshal's Office at (703) 805-2091.
If you have an emergency, call (703) 781-1800.