The winter months present many opportunities for families and friends to enjoy each other’s company, as well as having a plentiful feast of homemade recipes. The brisk winter chill forces us, sometimes unwillingly, to seek shelter inside the home where the chill is taken out of the air by a warm fire or heater. The holidays also present the opportunity to decorate the inside and outside of our homes in festive cheer.
This time of year and these events are especially family oriented and remind us of people and possessions for which we can be thankful. They can also pose a preventable risk that may or may not directly present itself. Cooking is the leading cause of winter residential building fires at 36% followed by heating at 23%. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), space heaters account for about one third of the home heating fires and approximately 80% of the home heating fire deaths. 53% of residential electrical fires involve electrical wiring.
Below are some guidelines and practices to keep your family safe and prevent the unfortunate incident of a fire or other related accidents.
• The leading cause of fires in the kitchen is unattended cooking.
• Stay in the kitchen when you are frying, grilling, or broiling food. If you leave the kitchen for even a short period of time, turn off the stove.
• Stay alert! To prevent cooking fires, you have to be alert. You won't be if you are sleepy, have been drinking alcohol, or have taken medicine that makes you drowsy
• Keep anything that can catch fire - potholders, oven mitts, wooden utensils, paper or plastic bags, food packaging, towels, or curtains - away from your stovetop.
• Keep young children at least 3 feet (1 meter) away from any place where hot food or drink is being prepared or carried. Keep hot foods and liquids away from table and counter edges.
• When young children are present, use the stove's back burners whenever possible.
• Never use aluminum foil or metal objects in a microwave oven. They can cause a fire and damage the oven.
• Never leave a fire in the fireplace unattended. Extinguish the fire before going to bed or leaving the house.
• Have your chimney or wood stove inspected and cleaned annually by a certified chimney specialist.
• Do not burn green wood, paper, or trash in your fireplace because they create heavy creosote buildup and are difficult to control.
• Always use a metal mesh screen with fireplaces that do not have a glass fireplace door.
• Clear the area around the hearth of debris, decorations and flammable materials.
• Keep air inlets on wood stoves open, and never restrict air supply to fireplaces. Otherwise you may cause creosote buildup that could lead to a chimney fire.
• Keep combustibles at least three feet away from electric space heaters.
• Do not use heaters to dry clothing or for storing items.
• Many avoidable electrical fires can be traced to misuse of electric cords, such as overloading circuits, poor maintenance, and running the cords under rugs or in high traffic areas.
• Frayed wires can cause fires. Replace all worn, old or damaged appliance cords immediately.
• Replace any electrical tool if it causes even small electrical shocks, overheats, shorts out, or gives off smoke or sparks.
• Keep clothes, curtains, and other potentially combustible items at least three feet from all heaters.
• If an appliance has a three-prong plug, use it only in a three-slot outlet. Never force it to fit into a two-slot outlet or extension cord.
• Use electrical extension cords wisely; never overload extension cords or wall sockets.
• Never leave burning candles unattended.
• If you must use candles, ensure that they are placed in sturdy holders.
• Keep candles away from children and pets.
• Be sure to extinguish candles after each use.
• Children should never be allowed to play with matches, lighters, or candles.
• Never put candles on a Christmas tree.
Live Christmas Trees
• Choose a tree with fresh, green needles that do not fall off when touched
• Before placing the tree in the stand, cut 1–2” from the base of the trunk.
• Make sure the tree is at least three feet away from any heat source, like fireplaces, radiators, space heaters, candles, heat vents or lights.
• Make sure the tree is not blocking an exit.
• Add water to the tree stand. Be sure to add water daily
• Always turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving home or going to bed
• Get rid of the tree when it begins dropping needles.
• Never put tree branches or needles in a fireplace or wood-burning stove
• Dried-out trees are a fire danger and should not be left in the home or garage
Finally, as in every season, have working smoke alarms installed on every level of your home. Test the detectors monthly and keep them clean and equipped with fresh batteries at all times. Know when and how to call for help, and remember to practice your home escape plan. Properly maintained smoke detectors save lives. More tips about holiday safety can be found by visiting http://www.usfa.fema.gov/citizens/home_fire_prev/holiday-seasonal/index.... or http://www.nfpa.org/winter.