Officials: Don’t let a fire ruin your holiday

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published December 19, 2017

ROCHESTER — ’Tis the season to be merry — that is, unless a fire turns your happy holiday into a hazardous one.

December, January and February are the leading months for home fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association, which says that many of these fires are caused by cooking, heating and holiday decorations.

“By knowing where potential fire hazards exist and taking the needed steps to prevent them, people can enjoy the season’s celebrations and traditions while keeping their families, guests and homes safe,” Lorraine Carli, vice president of the National Fire Protection Association’s outreach and advocacy division, said in a statement.

The risk of fire increases over the holidays because there are more opportunities for things to go wrong.

“Now is the time of year when we are trying to multitask because we are doing a bunch of different things,” said Rochester Fire Chief John Cieslik. “Because we multitask, we tend to not pay attention to all of the details, so if we can remind people to stay focused on what they are doing, we can eliminate some of the hazards.”

Cooking fires are the leading cause of U.S. home fires and injuries year-round, according to the NFPA, which says that Christmas Day ranks as the third — after Thanksgiving and the day before Thanksgiving — leading day for home cooking fires.

Those manning the oven, stove or grill should make sure there’s a fire extinguisher in the kitchen that’s easily accessible, and they should keep children away from cooktops and ovens. Cieslik also urges people to never leave whatever they are cooking unattended, and to set a timer while baking or roasting to make sure food isn’t forgotten.

“If the phone rings or the doorbell rings, make sure you turn off the stove if you are going to answer the door or are talking on the telephone. … If you are not watching your pot, it might cause a fire,” he said.

Christmas trees are another risk for a potential home fire. NFPA officials said that although Christmas tree fires are not common, when they do occur, they’re much more likely to be serious. One of every 32 reported home Christmas tree fires results in a death each year, NFPA officials said, compared to an annual average of one death per 143 total reported home fires.

“If you are a fan of natural Christmas trees, we definitely want you to use some care and caution,” Cieslik said.

Those who do set up live trees should keep them no longer than two weeks, keep the water filled in the pans of the trees at all times, and set them up away from heat sources — like vents and fireplaces — and in areas that will not block any exits to the home.

As far as Christmas lights go, fire officials recommend only using lights that include the label of a recognized testing laboratory — such as UL, for Underwriters Laboratories Inc., or FM, for Factory Mutual Global. People can further limit the risk of fire by following the manufacturer’s instructions for usage — such as only using indoor lights inside — replacing any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections, and following the manufacturer’s instructions for the number of light strands to connect. Fire officials also suggest turning off all light strings and decorations before leaving home or going to bed.

December is the peak time of the year for candle fires, as candles are often used in holiday decorations — with Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day being the top three days of the year for such fires, according to the NFPA. In fact, NFPA officials say more than half of home decoration fires are started by candles.

Although candles are beautiful to look at, they cannot be left unattended. Fire officials say candles need to be at least 12 to 24 inches away from anything that might be combustible. They should have a glass shell that can go over them, and they need to be blown out when people leave the room or go to bed.

As the holidays draw near, Cieslik also urges residents to check all fire alarms and carbon monoxide detectors, and to replace the batteries in any that might need a new set.