Four years ago, an overly dry Christmas tree sparked a fire at a mansion in Annapolis that killed two adults and four of their grandchildren. What made this tragedy all the sadder is that it could have been avoided.
State Fire Marshal Brian S. Geraci recently issued a reminder to all Marylanders to check for fire safety where they live, where they work and everywhere they go during the holidays.
Cut trees placed in the home for Christmas are a constant concern to the state agency and firefighters, because of the extreme flammability of a tree that has lost its moisture. Special precautions need to be observed, including selecting a tree with green needles that do not fall too easily from the branches. Also, the trunk should be sticky to the touch. Place the tree in a location away from heat sources, and add water every day during the recommended two-week limit on displaying a cut tree indoors. Remove the tree shortly after the holidays. A good disposal option is to recycle trees at one of Calvert’s six trash convenience stations, where the trees will later be ground into mulch.
Inspect tree lighting for frayed or damaged wiring and check for cracked sockets. Replace worn strands with new sets, and follow manufacturer’s guidelines when attaching additional strands. Always unplug or switch off all holiday lights before leaving home or going to bed, or put them on a timer.
When using portable, unvented fuel-fired heaters, such as kerosene heaters, make sure to use only the recommended fuel specified in the owner’s manual. Never use gasoline in a kerosene heater. If it’s necessary to use an electric space heater, use only one that has been approved by an authorized testing laboratory such as UL, and plug the heater directly into an outlet. Never use an extension cord or power strip, as they can easily overheat and cause a fire, and keep space heaters at least three feet away from anything combustible.
If heating equipment fails, do not use kitchen stoves or ovens to supply heat.
When using fireplaces, wood stoves or pellet stoves, make sure the heat sources have been installed and properly serviced by trained technicians in accordance with state and local codes. Those precautions allow the equipment to work at its peak efficiency, and lower the risk of a catastrophic failure. Ensure that the chimney is cleaned and inspected before use, and place ashes in a metal container with a lid.
Never leave candles burning unattended. Extinguish their flame before leaving the room. Consider using safer, battery-operated candles instead of flaming candles, Geraci says.
In the kitchen, prevent fires from starting on the stove by staying in the kitchen and monitoring the food as it is being prepared. If a fire occurs in a pot or pan on the stove, calmly place a lid on it and turn off the burner. Allow the cookware to cool before removing it from the stove.
Also, follow all safety precautions and manufacturer’s instructions when using a turkey fryer.
And if a fire should occur inside a home during the holidays, the same safety fundamentals as the rest of the year still apply. Close the doors behind while going outside, call 911 — and never go back inside a burning home. Tell arriving first responders if anyone is still inside.
At holiday-themed events, blocked exits resulting from improperly placed chairs, tables or even holiday decorations can result in a delay in getting out quickly and safely. Geraci suggests we all boost our safety awareness whether at church, school or even local eateries.
As always, common sense and caution will contribute to a fire-safe holiday season.