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Safety concerns arise amid cold weather, holiday

Space heaters, fireplaces, and festive lights are the signals of winter and the holiday season. With the need for warmth and the constant use of power outlets, however, comes the need for raised awareness about the danger of house fires.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, “one of every four home Christmas tree fires is caused by electrical problems.” Furthermore, another quarter of Christmas tree fires are caused by heat sources, open or otherwise, being too close to the tree. Watering a live tree every day to keep it from drying out can help lower the risk of it becoming dangerously flammable.

Electrical safety is also important, as fires can be caused by issues such as overloaded power outlets. Paying attention to Christmas lights and removing strands with “frayed or pinched wires” can reduce the risk of electrical fire. Captain Les Liller of the Greenville Fire Department says that although reusing items such as Christmas lights is tempting, “they should be thrown out once they are damaged or frayed.”

Checking smoke detectors regularly is crucial for home preparedness in case of a fire. Families should also have a set escape plan for a worst-case scenario, such as waking up to a fire.

Liller stresses planning multiple escape routes and, crucially, pre-planning a place for all people in the residence to meet outside the house in case of a fire. “Unfortunately, we see or hear in the fire service of parents who go back into a burning structure to try to retrieve [missing children or family members], when maybe they were on the other side of the house. And typically, when someone has escaped a structure and go back in, the odds of them getting back out are very slim,” said Liller. Families should designate a meeting place such as a neighbor’s house or other landmark to meet and account for one another.

Open fire sources such as candles are especially dangerous, causing “two out of five home decoration structure fires” according to the U.S. Fire Administration. The agency recommends using flameless candles if possible, and stresses putting burning candles in sturdy candleholders “at least 12 inches” from any flammable materials. Space heaters should also be kept away from flammable materials. The GFD recommends not using extension cords at all with space heaters, but if it is necessary then large, durable cords should be used.

According to Liller, the GFD has encountered a downward trend in residence fires this holiday season, and hopes the trend will continue as colder weather encompasses the area. “We have not seen any house fires period, much less related to decorations or Christmas trees, so we are hopeful for a very safe season and that this trend continues… we just want to caution everybody to be very careful with their decorations and not overloading extension cords with decorations,” explained Liller.

With fires currently ravaging Southern California, Liller also made a point to stress the seriousness of safe outdoor fire practice. “The biggest thing is to use common sense when doing outside burning; pick days that are not windy, choose days that are not extremely dry. Also, do not leave a fire unattended.”