Just a few days before Christmas in 1990, a Christmas tree in a Canton home burst into flames. The man tried to pull the burning tree out of the doorwall in the back of the home. The tree wedged in the doorwall and ignited nearby combustibles, quickly spreading the fire. He and his wife tried desperately to get their children out safely, but seven people died in that fire. The most probable cause of the fire was a string of lights wrapped around the tree.
The holidays bring out an increased risk of fire. Decorations that may block doors, candles, space heaters, fires in the fireplace and in increase in cooking to feed the many visitors who stop by during this time of year can all be added risk in your home. Decorating your home is a great way to celebrate, but make sure you spend a few minutes to make the decorations as safe as possible.
Space heaters and fireplaces need to be watched carefully. Keep space heaters on in rooms with adult supervision. If you have to leave the room, turn off the heater.
Fireplaces, like heaters, need space and plenty of it. Keep combustible materials three feet away from heaters and fireplaces, and make sure the fireplace has a screen in place that will catch any flying embers. Have the fireplace cleaned and inspected annually.
Candles are a way of celebrating the season, but even those small flames can be responsible for large fires. Place candles in holders that won't tip over and can catch the wax as it burns. Keep candles out of the path of travel to avoid bumping into them and keep them away from combustibles and their path. For example, make sure curtains, drapes and sheers will not blow into candles.
Holiday lighting is a sure sign of the season, but what has happened to the lights since you put them away after last season? Pull out strings of lights and plug them in to check for burning, cracks or frayed and exposed wires. If you have any problems, discard them and replace them with a new set. Use indoor lights inside and outdoor lighting outside the home, and avoid placing electrical wiring under rugs where it can create a trip hazard and risk being overheated.
Christmas trees should not block paths in and out of the home. Real trees should be watered to keep as much moisture in the tree as possible, and artificial trees should be flame-retardant. Keep trees well away from space heaters, fireplaces and the open flames of candles in the home.
When cooking and baking begin, we need to move children well away from the cooking area. Establish a “no play” zone around cooking areas during cooking and baking.
Avoid placing combustible materials such as towels and pot holders on or close to the stove and never leave cooking food unattended. If you must leave the cooking area momentarily, bring a spoon or pot holder with you to remind you to return to it. You may also set the kitchen timer as a reminder.
The holidays can be a festive time of year. Just a few minutes of safety can help make your holidays safe as well.
Tom Kiurski is training coordinator for the Livonia Fire Department.