Simple ways to pevent holiday house fires

Max Smith,

WASHINGTON — Whether you’re getting together with the family for Christmas, or getting set to celebrate New Year’s Eve, fire officials say there are some simple ways to stay safe.

“The simplest thing a family can do to protect themselves is to make sure they have a working smoke alarm,” says Pete Piringer, president of the College Park Volunteer Fire Department.

He suggests having a smoke alarm and a carbon monoxide detector in each bedroom or sleeping area, and at least one on each floor of your house.

“There’s really no excuse in this area [to not have a smoke alarm], most fire departments will provide you with a free smoke alarm if you need one,” Piringer adds.

Some of the bigger fire threats around the holidays are tied to distractions like friends or family leading people to leave candles or cooking unattended.

“Take the time to slow down a bit, think ahead. Planning can go a long way,” Piringer says. “Cooking is the leading cause of fire year-round. This time of year it tends to be those associated with heating equipment. That could be a fireplace, a space heater.”

One big problem can be extension cords that aren’t designed for the job.

“If it’s warm to the touch, it’s probably time to think about a bigger cord,” Piringer says.

If you’re going away for a few days, Piringer says it’s always a good idea to unplug everything, from holiday lights to TV sets.

“Even if it’s turned off, those things still have some electric current, so if there is a power surge or something like that it could be a problem, or something could just be old and overheat.”

This is also the time that fires can easily start around your Christmas tree if it has dried out over the last few weeks, so it’s important to keep the tree watered.

The U.S. Fire Administration has some other holiday safety tips, including warnings to never leave holiday lights on unattended, and to never put tree branches, needles or wrapping paper in the fireplace.

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(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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