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WATCH: Firefighters offer tips to lessen risk of holiday fires

by John Anderson | November 24, 2021 at 4:04 a.m.
Hot Springs Fire Marshal Tom Braughton, right, and Assistant Fire Marshal Carlton Scott are shown at the Central Fire Station on Tuesday. - Photo by Tanner Newton of The Sentinel-Record

With the holiday season just around the corner, the Hot Springs Fire Department is offering safety tips for citizens to minimize the risk of fire.

Hot Springs Fire Marshal Tom Braughton says people need to exercise caution if cooking outdoors during Thanksgiving. When using grills or smokers, for example, keep the equipment away from combustible materials, especially charcoal grills, and be careful when disposing of the ashes.

"A lot of times, they'll just go dump them by a tree or somewhere out there in the yard, and those ashes are still hot. We've seen many fires start from somebody just going and dumping ashes, and that's even a couple days later or so. They just retain the heat so well," he said.

When it comes to disposing of the hot ashes or charcoal appropriately, Braughton recommended waiting for an extended period of time to let the heat dissipate while some people will put water on them or put them in a metal container.

"You have to make sure that you don't put them in paper sacks or plastic buckets," Assistant Fire Marshal Carlton Scott said.

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With the weather changing, people are starting to use their fireplaces more and they need to have their fireplace cleaned out once a year, Braughton said, noting, "for all the different materials that fire logs create, (such as) soot going up in the chimney flue, we get a lot of chimney fires that way."

The fire department has not had many chimney fires lately, he said.

For the Christmas holidays, candles pose a fire hazard, and Braughton stressed that people need to make sure the candles are kept away from combustible material.

"Don't put them near your trees or anything like that. Lights on your Christmas trees -- make sure that they're newer style, not older style where you can plug in more of them, the newer styles you can, make sure you turn your tree off at night when you go to sleep," he said.

After the Christmas holidays, live Christmas trees can be disposed of at the Solid Waste Department Recycling Drop-Off Center at the corner of Valley and Runyon streets.

"A lot of people will try to either cut those up or put them in their fireplace and burn them off. Yeah, it's like gasoline," Braughton said.

When deep-frying a turkey, people need to make sure the turkey is completely defrosted and all the moisture is off before putting it in the frying pot. Also, make sure the oil is at the right level so it does not overflow, Scott said.

Braughton said turkeys need to be dry before placing them in the fryer, and fryers need to be outside, noting, "the big thing is the water reacting with the hot oil."

"A lot of the newer styles, they have timers on them to where it shuts off after so long. Those are great, but obviously, there's workarounds with the timers. But that's built-in for a reason to make sure that (the) fire is turned off to make you come and check on that turkey," he said.

The department does have an increase in calls during the holiday season, especially in the colder season. Braughton said they see people with warming fires, and some are not doing it intelligently -- they just know that they have to be warm.

"We've gone as far as seeing people with a bucket that has little pieces of wood in it underneath the house to keep pipes from freezing. Just stuff like that, just use common sense if you have to stay warm," he said.

Another danger is space heater fires, he said, noting when using an extension cord for heaters, make sure the cord is rated for that heater, because otherwise it can lead to a fire.

Braughton said in the event of a fire, everyone needs to get out of the residence and call 911 and not try to put the fire out or worry about pets.

"I know everybody's going to want to try to look for pets before they get out, but obviously, we need you to get out of the house first, and then we can come in and do what we need to do," he said.

"One thing we teach in schools, at younger ages, is have a meeting place outside. So if there's multiple family members, they don't have to go around the house looking for everybody. Once you get outside, you go to a meeting place and kind of start doing a head count. That seems to work really well," Braughton said.

Scott said to make sure to have a plan and go over it with family members, so they know where to go and what to do if there is a fire.

"If you have a plan, it seems if you know what you're going to do and where you're going to go, things seem to work a little smoother. It's not as hectic," Scott said. "Having a fire is absolutely devastating, and just the emotions that's going on at that time, it can cause panic. And if you have a plan, it just seems to go a little better."

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