Cooler weather has arrived — Christmas is upon us and the usual outbreak of structure fires are expected to be on the rise.
Cleveland Fire Department and Bradley County Fire Rescue officials warn residents to use extra precaution when colder weather begins to warrant the use of home heating, especially when it comes to portable space heating. Christmas trees can also be a hazard and a handy rule of thumb should be applied to placement of all heat sources.
A three-foot “Safe Zone” is illustrated as the standard set by National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) researchers.
The “Safe Zone” includes space heaters, both fixed and portable, candles, light bulbs, and even cook stoves.
“If a live Christmas tree is being used in your home, please make sure to keep it watered properly to keep the tree from drying out,” said Bradley County Fire Chief Dewey Woody.
Lighting on a Christmas tree can generate a great deal of heat.
“Oftentimes, a drop cord will be used to aid in lighting a tree. Please make sure the drop cord is heavy enough and in good condition, free of fraying or damage,” Woody said.
Here are a few key things to remember regarding Christmas tree safety:
n Be careful with holiday decorations. Choose decorations that are flame resistant or flame retardant.
n Keep lit candles away from decorations and other things that can burn.
n Use lights that have the label of an independent testing laboratory. Check the packaging; some lights are only for indoor use.
n Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. Connect no more than three strands of mini light sets and a maximum of 50 bulbs for screw-in bulbs.
n Use clips, not nails, to hang lights so the cords do not get damaged.
n Keep decorations away from windows and doors.
n Keep your tree well watered. A dry tree can be extremely dangerous.
Cooking equipment is the leading cause of fires and fire injuries, according to the NFPA.
The NFPA’s lead tip: Never leave cooking food unattended, followed by failing to turn off the stove and placing combustible materials too close to the stove eyes.
The three foot “Safe Zone” should also apply to combustibles, children and pets.
Be sure to keep the stove and areas around the stove clean. Fires feed on built-up grease.
Smoke alarms are just the first step in insuring your family’s safety. Home escape plans, in case of fire, should be discussed with all members of your family. When the alarm goes off, most families don’t know how to respond, according to fire safety officials.
Make sure fire extinguishers are in working order and placed in key rooms throughout the residence. Only a small percentage of American households have discussed and practiced an escape plan. The basis for the plan calls for smoke alarms to be positioned at every level of the home and outside all sleeping areas. Discuss two exit options for escaping a room with unobstructed pathways to safety, and then to a common and practiced meeting place outside the home.
With today’s emphasis on candles and other mood lighting techniques, candle safety is a priority, especially when small children and pets are also occupants of the home. Candles should be placed out of reach of both pets and children.
They should be set on burn proof footers or plates, even if they are already inside a decorative lantern or other luminary housing. When a candle burns dangerously low, discard it. Sometimes the three-foot “Safe Zone” cannot be used, such as when using candles.
Light bulbs generate a tremendous amount of heat and most materials are combustible. Lower wattage light bulbs will expel less heat. Some consumers will use bulbs rated over the specific use set forth by the manufacture of the lamp or light housing. These practices are considered unsafe according to NFPA standards. There have been a number of fires locally which have been attributed to light bulbs used as a winter heat source for animals.
Dog houses with a light bulb heat source should not be placed under decking or porches.
It is not recommended to use lighting such as heat lamps to thaw or prevent frozen pipes in wintertime. Underwriters Laboratory approved heat tapes are the safest alternative for preventing frozen pipes.
Other safety precautions include: make sure drop cords are not worn out and are designed to carry the electric load to appliances you may have plugged into them. It is not recommended to use an extension cord with an electric space heater. Extension cords are generally used for lower amperage electrical equipment. Inexpensive drop cords can break down with use or wiring inside the cord is not heavy enough to carry electrical loads.
“Never run a drop cord under carpeting or area rugs. Walking on cords can damage the insulation and cause a short which can start a fire,” said Cleveland Fire Chief Steve Haun.
Home heating, one of the leading cause of fires during the months of December, January and February, trails only cooking related fires according to NFPA. Over 50,000 heating equipment related residential fires are reported yearly resulting in injury, death and millions of dollars in damages.
Space heaters are the most common type of heat source attributed to the leading cause of fire and fire deaths.
According to NFPA, two of every three home heating fires and three of every four fire related deaths were from space heating equipment such as portable electric heaters, portable kerosene heaters, wood stoves, fireplaces and fireplaces with inserts along with single room gas heaters.
NFPA fact sheets state the common cause of space heating home fires are from a lack of regular cleaning and preventative maintenance when it comes to wood burning devices such as fireplaces, inserts or chimneys. Most importantly, the three-foot “Safety Zone,” is often ignored.
“Space heaters need space,” said Haun. “Probably the best place to use space heaters is in a large open room.”
Occasional warm days throughout the spring can also trigger structure fires.
“Thermostats, particularly in wall heaters may have been left in the ‘on’ position when we get these warm days, then it gets cold enough to trigger the heater to come on,” said Haun.
Furniture, clothing or other flammable materials could catch fire, reinforcing the importance of the three foot “Safety Zone” rule.
Smoke alarms are available through both city and county fire departments.
Cleveland and Bradley County firefighters will deliver and place smoke alarms in homes.
“A resident can provide information such as address and an appointment will be set up make sure smoke alarms are properly placed,” said Haun.
Area residents can call 728-7311 and choose the correct voice prompt for either fire department. The universal “311” number is used for all departmental connections.
Cold weather can bring many dangers to the forefront concerning fire safety. Following a few simple rules of fire prevention is a key to fire safety.