Holidays, cold present fire danger indoors

So far, so good — no space heaters left too near the drapes, no burning candles forgotten on a bookshelf, no tinder-dry Christmas tree ignited by the wrong string of lights.

We’re entering what might informally be called the winter “fire season,” when the threat of structure fires caused by space heaters, clogged chimneys, wood-burning fireplaces, candles and other hazards surges. There’s no panacea to prevent fire entirely, but a little prevention can go a long way toward a safe winter.

“First of all, going into the holiday season, check smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors,” said Doug Walsh, battalion chief with the Grand Junction Fire Department. “Make sure they’re working, make sure the batteries are fresh. Plan a family fire drill.”

One of the most common dangers in cold weather, he said, is space heaters used incorrectly. Don’t put them too near combustible objects, such as drapes or Christmas trees, and don’t put anything on top of them, he said.

“Basically, use them as they’re directed,” he said. “Read the directions and understand their limitations. Make sure they have a sensor on them, that if they tip over they’ll shut off. Use them as they’re designed to be used, and when you’re not using them, unplug them.”

Walsh also advised getting the chimney cleaned out before lighting that first fire. A clogged chimney is not only a fire hazard, but also is a cause of dangerous smoke buildup inside a structure.

And, because it’s the holiday season, particular caution should be taken with Christmas trees and lights, Walsh said.

“If you have a real tree, make sure you’re using the correct lights that are rated to be used for a real tree,” he said. “Make sure you’re keeping the tree moist. The thing to remember is, they’re dead already, so they’re just going to get more and more dry, and that’s very good tinder.”

When it comes to decorating, be careful to not overload a structure’s electrical system and outlets, Walsh said. Use extension cords that have breakers built into them.

“A large area of our community was built when that much electricity was just not used,” he said. “A lot of the older homes are not designed with that usage in mind, so we really need to be aware of managing those outlets more appropriately.”

One safety issue that often overshadows the specter of fire, Walsh said, is kitchen safety. Although deep-fried turkey accidents get a lot of attention, the majority of holiday kitchen accidents — burns and scalds — are the result of inattention.

“Really, what we see more of is people get preoccupied with things, having a lot of people visiting, and they’re not as careful,” Walsh said. “We see burns and scalds, so it’s important to remember to keep the handles of pots and pans turned away so children can’t reach up and grab them.”

He also advised keeping burning candles out of children’s reach, as well as keeping them away from other combustibles and remembering to blow them out before leaving home or going to bed.

“As far as the Thanksgiving season, it sounded like things went pretty well over the weekend,” Walsh said. “The collapse at The Salvation Army (building) was a major thing for us, of course, but otherwise it was a safe holiday.”


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