Fire prevention advice offered for a safe holiday season


The Office of the State Fire Marshal and local volunteer firefighters are urging Carroll County residents to take precautions this holiday and winter season to prevent fires at their home.

"A lot of things occur in the winter because we're home more and doing things there more," said Doug Alexander, the Carroll County Volunteer Emergency Services Association's public information officer. "During the holidays, we get wired into gifts and decorations and don't pay attention to everyday safety things."

The holidays create additional fire hazards in several ways: Homeowners use old, frayed cords; plug too many cords into one outlet; place the tree too close to a heat source; let the tree dry out; overdecorate, especially around exits; and are careless in burning candles.

Alexander offers these tips for holiday safety: Don't burn wrapping paper; be careful where you place your tree; inspect all electrical cords for fraying, dryrot and pinching; use a cord heavy enough to carry the load; and "before you go out, blow out" candles.

"Be careful in decorations of obstructing your way out in an emergency," Alexander said. He described one homeowner's entryway that had so many decorations and lights that "there was no way anybody was going to get out that door."

Many everyday mistakes people make at home are simple, common-sense things, such as improperly using electrical lights, cords and outlets; incorrectly discarding ashes; and using candles carelessly, he said.

"We still have people storing ashes in paper bags in their garage," Alexander said. "People just don't think."

Homeowners also do not always care for and maintain their alternative heating sources or know how to use them correctly. Chimneys should be cleaned and inspected annually, for instance.

Mark Bilger, commander of the State Fire Marshal's Sykesville office, has seen people use gasoline in a kerosene heater.

"Kerosene is different from gas, and a kerosene heater is not designed to burn gas," Bilger said, adding that kerosene heaters should be refueled outside the home and while they are cool.

He also said homeowners should not use their regular stove as a heating source, as it can be a potential source of fire and toxic fumes if the room is not ventilated properly.

Another tip is not to use a flammable liquid to start a woodstove or fireplace fire, Bilger said. When cleaning the fireplace or stove, always put ashes in a metal container and place the container outside.

Families need to make sure their young children are kept away from heat sources that could burn them or set their clothing on fire, Bilger said. Parents should keep lighters and matches out of the reach of children.

"It gets down to the proper care and maintenance and usage of alternative heating sources," Alexander said.

Bilger urges homeowners to develop an emergency escape plan, not just during the winter, but year-round; practice a fire escape plan; and check smoke detectors and change the batteries twice a year.

"In the event of an emergency, make sure the driveway is clear, make sure the house number is visible, and shovel out the fire hydrant if you have one near you," Alexander added.

At all times, Alexander said, "You've got to keep safety in the back of your mind."


Holiday fire safety

Never put a tree close to a heat source and never put holiday tree branches or needles in a woodburning stove or fireplace.

Do not leave holiday lights, candles, fireplaces or space heaters unattended. Turn off lights and heaters, put out fires and blow out candles before leaving the house.

Never burn candles near evergreens.

When buying artificial trees, look for the "fire resistant" label.

When buying live trees, check for freshness. At home, cut 2 inches off the bottom of the trunk for better water absorption and keep the tree stand filled with water.

Be careful when using artificial snow, angel hair and other decorations that could be harmful in any way, especially to children.

Use only UL-approved lights.

Safe burning and heating

Make sure woodstoves are properly installed away from combustible surfaces and have the correct floor support and adequate ventilation.

Use only dry, seasoned wood, and keep wood stacked away from structures.

Dispose of ashes regularly and properly.

Keep woodstove doors closed unless loading or stoking the fire.

Use a glass or metal screen in front of the fireplace to prevent sparks from igniting carpets or furniture.

Before going to sleep, put out the fire in the fireplace, and do not close the damper with hot ashes in the fireplace. A closed damper helps the fire to heat up and forces carbon monoxide into the home.

Have chimneys cleaned and inspected annually.

Turn portable space heaters off when leaving the room.

Use only the manufacturer's recommended fuel for any kind of heater, and follow instructions for proper use.

Space heaters need space. Keep them away from combustibles.

Do not overload the circuit when using an electric heater. Do not use electric heaters in rooms where they can come in contact with water.

Be sure furnace controls and emergency shutoffs are working properly.

Never thaw frozen pipes with any kind of open flame. Use hot water or a hand-held dryer.

When using any type of heating source, make sure the rooms are properly ventilated to prevent the build-up of carbon monoxide.

Install smoke alarms on every level of your house, check them regularly and change the batteries twice a year.

Sources: Carroll County Office of Public Safety, Carroll County Volunteer Emergency Services U.S. Fire Administration and U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission

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