BY NORBERT RUG
The holiday season is fun for all, but Holiday decor and celebrations can cause problems. Estimates of reported home fires are taken from the U.S. Fire Administration’s National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) and The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
The survey shows that in 2011-2015, decorations, excluding Christmas trees, were the cause of an average of 840 fires that were reported home fires each year. These fires resulted in an average of two deaths, 36 fire injuries and caused $11.4 million in direct property damage per year.
Candles were listed as the heat source in 36% of the fires. The decorations too close to a heat source in two of every five (42%) of the fires.
Even if it’s fake, trees are a fire risk. Fire departments report an average of 210 Christmas tree fires every year. When tree fires do happen, they’re more apt to be serious. Keep your tree at least 36 inches away from all heat sources like fireplaces, radiators, and heat vents. If you get a real tree, don’t forget to keep it well watered. Drier trees ignite more easily. “Your stand should have a water reservoir that can hold one quart of water per inch of the stem’s diameter,” says Rachel Rothman, the Good Housekeeping Institute’s technical and engineering director. Also, select a well-made stand so the tree can’t tip over.
Don’t overdo the lights. You may want to cover every inch of your house with lights like you are on The Great Christmas Light Fight but you may have to scale back depending on your outlets. Check the lights’ packaging for the power requirement and never plug in more than what a power strip or outlet says it can handle. Also, you never should connect more than three lights strings of together.
If you’re using old lights, look at the wiring to ensure there aren’t any signs of fraying or cracking. You should unplug all indoor lights when you leave the house, even the ones on your tree in the bay window.
December is the prime time of year for candle-related house fires, says the NFPA. They do set a holiday mood but lit flames and decorations don’t mix. In a five-year study, the NFPA found that 52% of fires related to decoration-were started by candles. Candles are pretty, but they’re still open flames. Keep lit candles a minimum of 12 inches away from other objects and never leave candles lit in a room that’s unoccupied.
Don’t burn trees or wreaths in your wood stove or fireplace, these burn much faster than logs, creating sparks, which can fly into the room or onto the roof. They can cause a build-up of highly flammable creosote in the chimney. Don’t burn the wrapping paper it might contain metallic materials that can be hazardous to breathe in.
Make sure your fire is out and the embers have cooled before you leave the house or go to bed. Put the ashes in a metal container and put this at least 20 feet away from the house. My daughter had a house fire from putting ashes in her plastic garbage can. Have a certified professional come out once a year minimum to inspect the chimney.
If you drop a Christmas ornament and it shatters, carefully picks up the large pieces and wrap them up in a paper towel or newspaper before throwing them away. You can use a fresh piece of white bread to pick up the little pieces. Sweep the floor and vacuum it thoroughly all over.
A cat could see a piece of shiny tinsel as a toy, but strand can become tangled in his intestines, causing serious damage. As someone that has had to remove a piece of tinsel from a pet’s anus, it isn’t fun for either one of you.
Mistletoe, Holly, and poinsettias are poisonous to dogs and cats when eaten. Candy canes (the real ones, not the dog-toy variety), with their curvy shape and wrapper, can present a choking hazard, and the sugar-free ones made with xylitol are toxic to dogs.
Don’t forget to take care of the outside of your house. Keep your walkways and driveway clear of snow and ice and be careful when you’re shoveling your property. Approximately 16,500 Americans go to the hospital each year because of injuries that occur while shoveling or removing ice and snow, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Wear boots with enough traction and take small, slow steps on ice or snow.
Keep all the kids in mind when picking out gifts. People tend to focus on what’s age-appropriate for one child, but younger children always want to play with the toys that the older kids get. This could be a problem if an older child’s toy comes with a lot of small parts. In 2013, there were an estimated 256,700 injuries caused by toys that were treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms, according to the CPSC.
If you’re going out of town for a few days, you have to do more than just lock your house up. Tell trusted neighbors that you’re going away and ask them to keep an eye on your house. Have the post office stop your mail or have someone pick it up daily. Get yourself a timer that turns your lights on and off at random times during the night if you can.
Norb is an OSHA General Industry Outreach Trainer and has taught safety for several years. He blogs at WhyWNY.home.blog