Through the holidays, area homes are transformed into winter wonderlands, with trees festooned with ornaments and lights, stockings hung by the chimney, candles casting a warm glow, a fire helping to knock off the winter chill, the smell of gingerbread from the oven, and Christmas carols playing in the background.
But consider this:
• Nearly 47,000 fires occur during the winter holidays, claiming more than 500 lives and causing more than 2,200 injuries.
• On average, one of every 22 home fires started by Christmas trees result in death.
• Candle fires are four times as likely to occur during the winter holidays.
• During the winter holiday season, an average of 40 home fires per day are caused by children playing.
Using some commonsense guidelines when readying your home for the holidays can prevent accidental injuries.
“I think last year was kind of average. We had several [fires]. It’s so tragic during the holiday season when everyone is celebrating and wanting to be with family and all of a sudden they’ve lost their place to live,” said Glenda Bobalik, chief executive officer of the American Red Cross of Northeast Tennessee. “One family losing their home in our community is something that all of us want to prevent. We want everybody to be safe, enjoy the holidays and their families.”
Already this fall season, the local Red Cross has seen an increase in the numbers of home fires, and that’s cause for concerning heading into the winter.
“We’re much higher than our average for this area,” Bobalik said. “Adding the holiday season on top of that, plus the colder weather and we start needing more heat and using alternative heat sources, we need to be conscious all the time of the steps we need to be taking.”
On top of that, the possibility of a freak winter storm causing widespread power outage is cause for concern, she said.
The majority of wintertime fires are caused by alternate heat sources, candles and stovetop cooking.
“We don’t see many candle fires, but we do see some especially if something causes a loss of power and people utilize candles,” she said. “Christmas tree fires? Not a lot. This changes over the years as far as people being aware that a dried-out tree is not a good thing. If you use a live tree, be sure you keep it watered and keep any sources of fire away from it. When you leave home, unplug the tree.”
Residents should also be conscious of not overloading electrical outlets and not having power cords running every which way inside and outside their homes, which can cause a tripping hazard.
"It’s so important that people are conscious of the heat sources they’re using and the safety that goes with it. Follow manufacturer’s guidelines and safety procedures. If you’re using a fireplace, be sure you’ve had the chimney cleaned and checked. Just take that extra little bit of time to be careful.”
Here’s some extra preparedness tips from the American Red Cross:
• Place Christmas trees and other holiday decorations at least three feet away from heat sources like fireplaces, portable heaters, radiators, heat vents and candles.
• Purchase flame retardant metallic or artificial trees. If you purchase a real tree, make sure that it has fresh, green needles that aren’t easily broken. Keep live trees as most as possible by giving them plenty of wat e r.
• Make sure that light strings and other holiday decorations are in good condition. Do not use anything with frayed electrical cords and always follow manufacturer’s instructions.
• Always unplug tree and holiday lights before leaving home or going to bed.
• Use only sturdy tree stands designed to not tip over.
• Keep anything that can catch on fire — pot holders, oven mitts, wooden utensils, paper or plastic bags, food packaging, towels or curtains — away from your stove top.
• Designate one person to walk around your home to make sure all candles and smoking materials are properly extinguished after guests leave.
• Install a smoke alarm near your kitchen, on each level of your home, near sleeping areas and inside and outside bathrooms if you sleep with doors closed. Use the test button to check it each month. Replace all batteries at least once a year.
Visit www.redcross.org/home ? fires for more information on how to keep your home fire safe during the holidays.