Mind safety with holiday decorations

Every year fires start because of dried out Christmas trees, candles, lights

By Paul Suarez, Columbian freelance



Here are a few tips from the Office of the State Fire Marshal:

Here are a few tips from the Office of the State Fire Marshal:

Trees should not be up longer than two weeks and should be kept away from heat sources including fireplaces and furnace vents.

Stands should be filled with water at all times.

Branches and needles should not be burned in the fireplace.

Artificial trees should be flame-retardant.

Only use nonflammable decorations.

Inspect light strings for frayed wires, cracked sockets, kinking or other problems.

Don’t overload outlets.

A decorated tree can brighten up your Christmas, especially if you don't water it on a regular basis.

Local firefighters say it's important to keep fire safety in mind when trimming the tree and decorating the house this holiday season.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, United States fire departments responded to an average of 240 house fires a year between 2005 and 2009 that started with Christmas trees. Fires caused an average of 13 deaths, 27 injuries and $16.7 million in property damage each year, the agency said.

The State Fire Marshal's Office says improper care of Christmas trees can lead to "catastrophic fires."

"It takes only seconds for a tree to ignite and the entire room to become engulfed in flames," State Fire Marshal Charles Duffy said in a bulletin.

Clark County Fire & Rescue Battalion Chief Tim Dawdy said it helps to select a tree as fresh as you can get. That often means cutting one yourself at a local tree farm, Dawdy said -- plus it's a great family activity.

Once the tree is at home it should be put in water immediately and be disposed of after Christmas.

Dawdy said tree fires aren't too common here, but people should be aware of the potential hazard.

"There is an incredible danger from a dried-out Christmas tree in your house," he said.

Kevin Stromberg, a Vancouver Fire Department spokesman, said burning candles, items too close to heat vents and fireplaces can pose big fire hazards this time of year.

Candles should be extinguished when you leave the house, and fireplace ashes should be put into a nonflammable container for at least 24 hours before being put in a trash can, he said. People should also check to make sure ashes are cool before taking them out of the container.

As for heat vents: make sure they are clear of debris for one or two feet before cranking the furnace on, Stromberg said.

CCF&R's Dawdy suggests people avoid putting wrapping paper in fires or stoves. He also recommends people consider purchasing those newfangled LED lights, which are cheaper to operate and don't give off much heat -- making them safer than traditional bulbs.

Getting the chimney or woodstove cleaned at least once a year is also a good idea, he said.

Stromberg said firefighters encourage people to check for working smoke alarms. Both the Vancouver Fire Department and Clark County Fire & Rescue will hand out smoke alarms or install them to people in need.