Local officials offer tips for a safe Halloween

Advice applies to home decorations, trick-or-treating

By Patty Hastings, Columbian breaking news reporter

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Vancouver Police Department's flier on Halloween safety

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As Halloween approaches, local officials offer tips to keep this holiday spooky but safe.

Oregon State Fire Marshal Mark Wallace reminds people decorating their homes to keep decorations away from doorways and heat sources. An estimated 1,000 fires are caused each year by unattended candles and luminaries placed too close to flammable decorations, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Popular and flammable decorations for fall include dried flowers, corn stalks, crepe paper and hay bales. Homeowners should ensure wires for decorations are not damaged and extension cords aren't overloaded.

When lighting candles, use sturdy glass, metal or ceramic candle holders and place them out of reach of pets and children. Be sure to blow out candles when leaving a room.

Homeowners may consider illuminating jack-o-lanterns with electric tea candles or purchasing an electric pumpkin. When carving pumpkins, children should draw the design and parents should carve it. Walkways can be decorated with flashlights rather than torches or candles.

Costumes, wigs and props should be labeled flame-retardant. The Office of State Fire Marshal suggests avoiding costumes that drag on the ground, as these could come in contact with open flame. Parents should teach their kids to stop, drop and roll in case their costume catches on fire

Aside from being flame-retardant, costumes should be brightly colored to make children more visible as they trick or treat, according to the Vancouver Police Department. Children can carry glow sticks and flashlights, and reflective strips can be attached to costumes and bags to increase visibility. The department recommends trying makeup instead of masks, so kids can see better.

Fake weapons should be made out of a flexible material, such as cardboard or foam, so it's obvious that it's not real.

Before heading out on Halloween night, plan the route so everyone trick-or-treating together knows where the group is headed. Devise a plan in case of separation and consider employing a buddy system, which will make it obvious if someone is missing from the group.

"Children are hard-wired to explore, have short attention spans, are easily distracted and unable to anticipate danger," said registered nurse Sandy Nipper, the child safety program coordinator at Randall Children's Hospital in Portland.

Older children should be encouraged to trick or treat with friends, older siblings or an adult in a planned route. Scheduling a curfew and check-in times can help parents know their children's whereabouts.

The children's hospital advises trick-or-treaters to stay in well-lit areas and not approach any unlit houses. They should walk on the sidewalk or the far left side of the road. Visibility is low for drivers in the evening, so people walking the streets should obey traffic rules and signals. Look both ways before crossing the street and make eye contact with a driver before going in front of their vehicle.

Those giving out treats this holiday should clear walkways and yards of any possible obstructions that children might not see in the dark.

Adults should inspect all candy before kids eat any of it, throwing away all unwrapped, rewrapped or old treats.

Vancouver police urge children to call for help if they need it, and report any suspicious activity to 911.