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GFD urges fire safety during holiday

Dwindling temperatures, previously lifted drought conditions and various Christmas decorations (and potential hazards) make this time of year more conducive to house fires than ever.

For Greenville Fire Department captain Les Liller, the December months represent an increase in structure fires, smokes calls and other incidents.

But when armed with the proper knowledge and a plan, Liller said that residents could avoid a number of common pitfalls that would ruin an otherwise merry Christmas.

Though cooking incidents are still the No. 1 cause for most structure fires, the holiday season adds a litany of others to the list.

“For people who like to use live Christmas trees, you have to keep these trees watered and keep them from drying out,” Liller said.

“There are several YouTube videos that show just how fast a dry Christmas tree can ignite and start a structure fire. It’s within seconds.

“Make sure that when you put your tree up that you saw a little bit off the end so that it’ll actually start taking water again off the base of the tree, and make sure to check that water daily. Once the needles get brittle and start falling off, that tree becomes dangerous. And also, immediately after the holiday season, don’t hesitate to take that tree out.”

Christmas lighting and other decorations are another common hazard that become problematic when electrical outlets become overloaded with one ornament too many.

“Thankfully, Christmas lights don’t pull a lot of amps, but it’s still easy to overload a plug and possibly start a fire.”

But perhaps the most common hazard of all has nothing to do with the holidays, but rather the temperature.

“Another thing that I can point out is, especially when it starts getting as cold as it’s going to this weekend where we start going into the 20s, a lot of people will break out the small electric heaters,” Liller said.

“The problem with these electrical space heaters that a lot of us have is that they’re actually designed to be plugged directly into a wall socket, but a lot of times there’s not a receptacle close to where they need the heat, so they use an extension cord. These little small extension cords that we use—the 18-20 gauge extension cords that are usually white or brown—are not heavy enough to run an electric heater.

“So if you plug a heater into one of these, there’s the possibility of an electrical overload and a fire. So if you have to use an electric space heater, be sure that if you have to use an extension cord that it’s a heavy-gauge extension cord that’s able to run that heater or plug it directly into a wall receptacle.”

Liller said that the Greenville Fire Department has experienced a number of local house fires within the past several weeks, though he’s unsure of how that compares to previous years.

And though the source of those fires range from the common misuse of a space heater to the uncommon buildup of creosote—a chemical that often collects inside fireplaces that aren’t cleaned periodically—all of them can be mitigated with the proper planning.

“Especially during the holiday season, people don’t like to think about fires and disasters, but we typically should check the batteries in our smoke detectors when the time changed in the first part of November,” Liller said. “But if you perhaps missed that, it’d be a good idea to check them to make sure they’re active.

“And also, in your daily life with your family at home, everyone needs some kind of emergency escape plan and a meeting place outside for the family to gather. Should you have a fire, there should be a point outside the structure at a safe distance—be it a neighbor’s house, a large tree or any other stationary landmark—if you have a fire in your home.”