During the Christmas and holiday season, it is fun to decorate for the winter holidays, but holiday decorations can increase your risk for a home fire. Many of us like leaving holiday lights on even when we are not home. We do not always think before we plug a lot of festive items into the outlet.
Use electricity safely to avoid the following common causes of electrical fires:
• Don’t overload outlets
• Use the right extension cords
• Try turning off lights and decorations before going to bed or leaving the home
• Throw out old or worn holiday lights
• Throw old or worn out appliances and electrical cords
Here are some tips to think about when decorating your tree:
• When purchasing an artificial tree, look for a “Fire Resistant” label.
• If you have a metallic tree, never use electric lights on it. You could be electrocuted.
• When purchasing a live tree, check for freshness. Make sure the needles are soft and are not falling off. Hard, brittle needles are signs of a dry tree, which can easily catch fire.
• Keep your live tree a safe distance from heat sources.
• Live trees need water, and lots of it. Cut about one inch off the bottom of the trunk before putting the tree in the stand. Add water and check the tree daily.
• Do not block your exit door with your tree.
•Remove live trees from your home as soon as possible. Most Christmas tree fires occur on or after New Year’s Day.
Some good tips to think about before hanging all those dreaded lights:
• Check each light set for damaged sockets or wires. Discard light sets and extension cords that are worn or cracked.
• Use UL approved light sets. Follow the manufacturer recommendations concerning the maximum number of light sets that can be connected together.
•Replace burnt out bulbs with bulbs of the same wattage as indicated on the tag attached to the light set.
• Turn off all lights before you go to bed or leave the home.
•Use only light sets and extension cords marked “For Outdoor Use” outside your home.
• Fasten outdoor lights securely with insulated clips or hooks. Use circuits protected by ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs).
Don’t forget the house. Here are some tips for home heating and fire prevention safety tips:
• Smoke alarms, when properly installed and maintained, provide early warning when fire occurs. For the greatest protection, install a smoke alarm on every level of your home and inside each sleeping area.
• Test smoke alarms at least once a month to ensure that they are working properly. Vacuum the dust from inside the alarm at least once a year. Batteries in battery-operated alarms should be changed twice a year or whenever an alarm “chirps” to signal low battery power.
• Develop an escape plan with two ways out from each room. Practice your fire escape plan with the family — include fire drills in the middle of the night — to ensure that everyone knows what to do if there is a fire and the smoke alarms sound.
There are some additional tips if you have a fire place and/or kerosene and electric heaters in the house:
• Before starting a fire in the fireplace, remove all decorations (including stockings hung by the fireplace) and be sure the flue is open.
• Do not burn wrapping papers in the fireplace. They can burn extremely fast, throwing off sparks and can ignite creosote that has previously accumulated in the chimney.
• Always use a screen in front of the fireplace. Also consider using a fire-resistant carpet or mat (made for fireplaces) on the floor in front of the fireplace.
• Keep all combustible materials, including wrapping paper at least three feet away from any heater — space heaters need space.
• When plugging in electric heaters, make sure that the outlet was designed to handle the load. Be safe. Do not plug anything else into the socket with the heater.
• When using kerosene heaters, make sure you only use the correct fuel. The wrong fuel may cause a fire or explosion. Only fill to 90 percent. Kerosene will expand once indoors. After the heater has cooled, take it outside to refuel.
Don’t forget cooking as a fire hazard:
• Cooking-related fires are the No. 1 cause of fires in the home.
• Do not leave cooking food unattended. If you must leave, turn off all cooking appliances.
• Keep combustible materials such as towels, potholders, papers, etc., away from heat sources on the stove or oven. Don’t wear loose fitting clothing while cooking.
• Do not attempt to move a pan of grease that is on fire. Put a lid on the pan to smother the fire, then turn off the heat, or use an ABC-rated fire extinguisher. Alert your family so they can evacuate safely.
• Be sure to turn pot handles towards the back of the stove. Small children are generally curious and may reach for a handle to see what is in the pot. They could get burned.
• Keep pets off cooking surfaces and countertops to prevent them from knocking things onto the burner.
In case of fire, follow your escape plan.
Remember to GET OUT, STAY OUT and CALL 911 or your local emergency phone number.
Do your part and have a safe holiday this year!
Tony Nye is the state coordinator for the Ohio State University Extension Small Farm Program and has been an OSU Extension Educator for agriculture and natural resources for 29 years, currently serving Clinton County and the Miami Valley EERA.