Allegheny County Emergency Services, in conjunction with the United States Fire Administration, reminds residents to take extra precautions during the holiday season. Fires during the holiday season claim the lives of more 400 people, injure 1,650 more, and cause more than $990 million in damage. According to the United States Fire Administration, there are simple life-saving steps to take to ensure a safe and happy holiday. By following these tips, individuals can greatly reduce their chances of becoming a holiday fire casualty.
Preventing Christmas Tree Fires
— Needles on fresh trees should be green and hard to pull back from the branches, and the needle should not break if the tree has been freshly cut. The trunk should be sticky to the touch. Old trees can be identified by bouncing the tree trunk on the ground. If many needles fall off, the tree has been cut too long, has probably dried out, and is a fire hazard.
— Do not place your tree close to a heat source, including a fireplace, space heater or heating vent. The heat will dry out the tree, causing it to be more easily ignited by heat, flame or sparks. Be careful not to drop or flick cigarette ashes near a tree. Do not put your live tree up too early or leave it up for longer than two weeks. Keep the tree stand filled with water at all times.
— Never put tree branches or needles in a fireplace or wood-burning stove. 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 service.
— If you are using a metallic or artificial tree, make sure it is flame retardant.
Holiday Lights & Decorations
— Inspect holiday lights each year 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.
— Do not overload electrical outlets.
— Do not link more than three light strands, unless the directions indicate it is safe. 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.
— Do not leave holiday lights on unattended
— All decorations should be nonflammable or flame-retardant and placed away from fireplaces heat vents.
— Avoid using lit candles. If you do use them, make sure they are in stable holders and place them where they cannot be easily knocked down. Never leave the house with candles burning.
— Never put lit candles on a tree.
— Do not go near a Christmas tree with an open flame, such as candles, lighters or matches.
— Soak hot ashes in water and place them in a metal container outside your home.
Protecting the Outside of Your Home
— Stack firewood outdoors at least 30 feet away from your home.
— Keep the roof clear of leaves, pine needles and other debris.
— Cover the chimney with a mesh screen spark arrester.
— Remove branches hanging above the chimney, flues or vents.
Protecting the Inside of Your Home
— Install smoke alarms on every level of your home and inside and outside of sleeping areas. Test them monthly and change the batteries at least once a year. Consider installing the new long life smoke alarms.
— Provide proper venting systems for all heating equipment.
— Extend all vent pipes at least three feet above the roof.
(photo of a staged room from a fire safety demonstration, from this site)