The Palestine Herald, Palestine, Texas

November 19, 2013

Fire safety crucial during holiday season

By GRACE GADDY
Palestine Herald-Press

PALESTINE —

Along with sharing egg nog and celebrating the hue of a reindeer's nose, fire safety is one of the most important traditions for residents to uphold this holiday season, according to Palestine Fire Chief Alan Wilcher.

Wilcher said the fire department tends to see an increase in preventable mishaps this time of year. He said local residents should practice “safety first” and “common sense” with the usual festivities.

“It's a joyous season, but it can also be a deadly season,” Wilcher said.

To favor the former, residents should use precaution while cooking, stringing lights, burning candles or say, roasting chestnuts — “on an open fire” as the carol goes — which, turns out, isn't such a great idea. Wilcher said fires should always be contained, and electrical wiring should be in pristine shape, and organized properly.

Overloaded outlets is one of the main hazards firefighters see this time of year, along with the unsafe placement of candles and heaters throughout the home. Indoor heaters should always have a 3-foot clearance from materials that could potentially ignite, Wilcher said, while candles, comparatively, should be positioned in a safe place, away from curtains, table cloths or similar materials.

“We have had cases where [a resident] had a candle away from drapery, and they had it away from the window, but they had the window open and it was on a stand that blew over and it got on the bed and caught the bed on fire,” Wilcher said. So just using “common sense” is a necessary precaution.

If candle wax is low — a quarter full, for instance — that'd be time to throw the candle away, he said, since that apple-spice jar can break when it gets too hot.

“The optimal thing would be to have it in a metal container, or have sand on the bottom, where if it did break, the sand would soak it up,” Wilcher said.

The U.S. Fire Administration reports that December is the peak time of year for home candle fires, while Christmas tree fires account for hundreds of fires annually.

Wilcher said when it comes to trees, there's a few things to keep in mind, since a dry tree — with hot lights — is one step closer to a burst of unwanted flames. If cutting down a live tree, residents should check the needles, Wilcher said.

Are they green and fresh? Or crisp and snapping? Snapping equals dry — not good.

The same goes for purchases, since a tree might be sitting on a lot for weeks prior to being sold — the moral of the story being that residents should tend to their tree's freshness and hydration.

“Make sure you keep those things watered,” Wilcher said. “Check the water on those things daily.”

For extra caution, Wilcher suggested that residents may want to consider purchasing an ornament that doubles as a smoke alarm. The batteries in household smoke alarms “should be replaced twice a year,” he added.

When it comes to the turkey, holiday cooking presents additional fire hazards for local residents to keep at bay.

“If they're going to fry turkeys, definitely do it outside, and definitely do it away from the house,” Wilcher advised, at least 10 to 15 feet from any structures, children or pets. “Make sure that the turkey is not frozen, make sure there's not a lot of water on it, and just be extra cautious” because a wet turkey dropped in hot grease equals “one heck of a fire.”

“Don't overfill your pot full of grease, and when you put it in there, slowly immerse the turkey,” he said.

For stuff on the stove, awareness is the key ingredient. It's important not to get distracted when something is cooking, Wilcher said.

“We see that all the time. [Someone will] let the cat out, they let their dog out, they tend to their child or something like that, and they forget what they're doing... the next thing you know their kitchen is on fire.”

Wilcher's advice?

“Turn the burner off or take whatever you're cooking off of the burner and set it aside.”

For more information on fire safety and prevention, residents can visit the National Fire Protection Association at www.nfpa.org, or call the Palestine Fire Department at 903-729-7100.