WESTFIELD - For most, the holiday season represents a time for family festivities and good cheer.
What few consider is the holiday season is a time when there is an increased risk of home fires. According to the Westfield Fire Department, many households engage in holiday activities that serve as some of the leading causes of U.S. home fires, including cooking. Christmas trees, candle usage and holiday decorations also significantly contribute to the seasonal causes of home fires. Add to that the hectic nature of the holidays, when people are trying to accomplish multiple tasks at one time, and the chance for home fires grows even further.
"As everyone gets busier during the holidays, we often become rushed, distracted or tired," Fire Prevention Chairman of the Westfield Fire Department James Pacanowski said. "That's when home fires are more likely to occur."
Fortunately, with a little added awareness and some minor adjustments to holiday cooking and decorating, the season can remain festive and safe for everybody.
"By taking some preventative steps and following simple rules of thumb, most home fires can be prevented," Pacanowski said.
With unattended cooking as the leading cause of U.S. home fires and home fire injuries, Pacanowski suggested staying in the kitchen while frying, grilling or broiling food. Most cooking fires involve the stovetop, so keep anything that can catch fire away from it, and turn off the stove when leaving the kitchen, even if it's for a short period of time. If simmering, boiling, baking or roasting food, check it regularly and use a timer to help remember there is food cooking. Westfield Fire Department also suggests creating a "kid-free zone" of at least three feet around the stove and areas where hot food and drinks are prepared or carried.
Candles are widely used in homes throughout the holidays, and December is the peak month for home candle fires. The nonprofit National Fire Protection Association's statistics show almost half of all home decoration fires are started by candles. Westfield Fire Department encourages Westfield residents to consider using flameless candles, which look and smell like real candles. However, if using traditional candles, keep them at least 12 inches away from anything that can burn, and remember to blow them out when leaving the room or going to bed. Use candle holders that are sturdy, won't tip over and are placed on uncluttered surfaces. Avoid using candles in the bedroom where one-third of U.S. candle fires begin or other areas where people may fall asleep. Lastly, never leave a child alone in a room with a burning candle.
According to NFPA, U.S. fire departments respond to 230 home structure fires caused by Christmas trees each year. One of every three of them is caused by electrical problems, and one in five resulted from a heat source too close to the tree. Westfield Fire Department offers the following advice for picking, placing and lighting the tree:
For artificial trees, be sure it's labeled, certified or identified by the manufacturer as fire-retardant;
For fresh trees, make sure the green needles don't fall off when touched. Before placing it in the stand, cut two inches from the base of the trunk. Add water to the tree stand, and be sure to water it daily;
Make sure the tree is not blocking an exit and is at least three feet away from any heat source, like fireplaces, space heaters, radiators, candles and heat vents or lights;
Use lights that have the label of an independent testing laboratory, and make sure you know whether they are designed for indoor or outdoor use;
Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. Connect no more than three strands of mini-string sets and a maximum of 50 bulbs for screw-in bulbs;
Never use lit candles to decorate the tree;
Always turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving the home or going to bed;
Include information on the community Christmas tree recycling program;
After Christmas, get rid of the tree. Dried-out trees are a fire hazard and should not be left in the home or garage, or placed outside the home; and
Bring outdoor electrical lights inside after the holidays to prevent hazards and make them last longer.
By following these fire prevention tips and measure, the Westfield Fire Department says the risk of fire in a home can be greatly reduced, allowing for an enjoyable, safe holiday season.
"The holidays can quickly turn from joyful to tragic when a fire occurs," Pacanowski said. "By taking simple precautions, people can avoid potential fire hazards, and make this time of year a healthy and happy one."