Officials encourage holiday fire safety

Abbey Stirgwolt

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.

The concept may sound innocent enough, but fire safety officials would prefer that residents break open a tin of cashews.

Fires occur more frequently in the winter because of increased use of central heating and open heat sources such as candles and fireplaces. During the holidays, Christmas trees and lights compound the likelihood that a fire will occur.

Locally, the increase is less noticeable but still evident, said Lt. Patrick Edwards of the Kent Fire Department.

“We see maybe a little less (than the national average increase) – mostly smaller fires,” he said, adding that most of these are caused by candles and overloading of electrical outlets.

“Christmas tree fires are not as common as they’re portrayed to be,” he said. “But they usually kill people because of how fast they burn.”

Edwards recommends buying artificial Christmas trees or a new flame retardant spray that can be applied to real trees.

He also offered the following holiday fire safety tips:

• Unplug Christmas lights and blow out candles before leaving home or going to bed.

• Invest in a good extension cord that is capable of handling the amount of power you plan to use it with. “Spend the money – it’s worth it,” Edwards said.

• Don’t overload electrical outlets.

In addition to Christmas lights and trees, heating units should also be kept in check during the winter months, said Rebekah Wright of Wright Heating and Cooling in Kent.

Heating fires are the second leading cause of residential building fires, according to a study released in November by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Fire Administration and the National Fire Data Center. More than one quarter of these are due to improper maintenance of heating equipment.

To ensure safety of indoor heating units, Wright offered the following advice:

• Check filters monthly to ensure the best efficiency.

• Units should be maintained professionally once a year.

• Keep flammables away from the furnace area.

• If you smell something burning, turn the furnace off immediately.

• Keep portable cords in good shape and make sure they’re stable.

Contact public affairs reporter Abbey Stirgwolt at [email protected].