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Most people have probably noticed that stores have been stocking their shelves with Christmas items for several weeks. Christmas celebrations seem to be happening earlier every year and decorating homes with trees has already begun. With all the excitement of the holiday season approaching, it is easy to push safety to the back burner.

Sadly, house fires during the holiday season are more frequent, more costly, and more deadly than at any other time of the year. In fact, according to the U.S. Fire Administration, the number of open-flame fires on Christmas Day is more than double the average. Reports show the number of fatalities during a holiday fire is nearly 70% higher than average, and property loss is 34% greater. With the number of Christmas trees, strings of lights, and candles being used in homes this time of year, knowing what to watch out for is definitely important to consider.

Unfortunately, a Christmas tree can be "almost explosive" if it catches on fire. From the moment a spark ignites a Christmas tree, it can take only a matter of minutes before noxious smoke and scorching heat fill an entire room, igniting everything within it. Seconds later, the fire can travel up a staircase and perhaps make escape virtually impossible for anyone on the second floor of the home. Since about 20% of families who put up Christmas trees prefer live trees, the following tips could help minimize the risk of potential disaster in the home.

First of all, make sure the tree is fresh when it is purchased, with needles intact. Be sure to get a fresh cut on the trunk to encourage water uptake through the trunk. Check your tree's water supply daily and replenish it often. Fresh trees dry out quickly in heated homes. Bear in mind that, no matter how well-watered, the tree will start to dry out after four weeks. Take it down as soon as possible after the holidays.

Next, keep the tree away from any heat source (fireplace, radiator, burning candle). Christmas tree fires are likely to be the most serious of fires. Studies indicate that Christmas tree fires result in death once in every 31 occurrences compared to an average of one death per 144 total reported home fires. A heat source too close to the tree causes one-fourth of all Christmas tree fires.

While the tree can be a real danger, being safe with Christmas lights is also something not to be overlooked. Ornaments are great on the tree, but nothing is more beautiful than multiple strings of lights. One of every three home Christmas tree fires is caused by electrical problems. Even when using an artificial tree, make sure it's flame-retardant. Though artificial trees are less likely to catch fire than a live tree, it is still possible.

Upon taking out those lights from the previous year, be sure to inspect the lights and discard any that are damaged. Frayed or cracked electrical cords or broken sockets are major fire hazards during the holidays. While at it, make sure all extension cords are in good condition and rated for indoor or outdoor use. Don't run more than three strings of lights end to end, and don't ever string together multiple extension cords. When hanging lights outside, use UL-rated clips or hangers. Nails or staples can damage the wiring and increase the risk of a fire. Keep the cords and lights away from snow or standing water and avoid damage to the cord's insulation by ensuring it is not pinched in doors or windows or placed under furniture. When installing outdoor lights, use a ladder made of wood or fiberglass, as metal ladders can conduct electricity.

Resist the temptation to leave lights up all year round. They can be chewed by squirrels and damaged by weather. Safety experts recommend outdoor lights be taken down within 90 days.

December is also the peak time of year for home candle fires. One-third of all candle fires start in the bedroom. Candle fires are four times more likely to occur in December than any other month. Reduce the risk by maintaining a distance of about 3 feet between the burning candle and anything flammable. Make sure candles are set on sturdy bases or, better still, cover them with hurricane globes. Never leave a burning candle unattended. Keep a fire extinguisher handy, and make sure all smoke detectors are working properly. For ambience without the danger of open flame, consider flameless LED candles.

The next few weeks are exciting times to gather with family and friends, enjoy traditional decorations, and eat special foods. Sadly though, the Christmas season can also present some unique fire hazards. A house fire would certainly take the joy out of celebrating the holidays so take appropriate precautions to ensure the safety of your home and your guests. No matter the celebration, keep these important steps in mind for staying safe and preventing fires.

Master Gardener information

Master Gardener meetings are held on the third Thursday of each month at the Elks Lodge. They're open to the public and guests are welcome. For more information, call the Extension Service office at 623-6841 or email Alex Dykes at [email protected]

EHC information

Are you interested in joining an existing Extension Homemakers Club? EHC is the largest volunteer organization in the state. For information on EHC, call 623-6841 or email Alison Crane at [email protected] Follow Alison on Facebook @garlandEGF and @Garland FCS, and EHC on Facebook @GarlandCountyEHC.

4-H information

For information about Garland County 4-H Club membership or program benefits, contact Linda Bates at the Garland County Cooperative Extension Service office located at 236 Woodbine, call 501-623-6841, or email [email protected] More information is available at http://www.uaex.edu/garland.

Society on 12/09/2019

Print Headline: 'Tis the season for 'safety first'

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