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Fire officials call for extra caution during holidays

December 05, 1999|By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

The Christmas season wouldn't seem complete without the customary outdoor lights and decorated trees and candles, but these holiday traditions can pose danger if proper care isn't taken, according to area firefighters.

While live Christmas trees can smell great and be festive, they pose a particular risk because they can easily dry out and catch fire, said Alan Matheny, spokesman for the Volunteer Fire Company of Halfway.

"Regular watering is a must," he said.

He recommends those with trees take special precautions by never using lighted candles on a tree and keeping trees away from heating sources and television sets.

Fresh-tree buyers may not realize that some trees sold in Washington County have been shipped here from the Midwest and may have been cut last month, said Captain Jay Brandenburg of the Boonsboro Fire Department.

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Recently cut trees need to soak up water for three or four days after being brought home, he said.

Needles that fall from trees in your home should be cleaned up promptly since they can "add fuel to the fire" should one break out, he said.

In addition, tree lights should be inspected for frays before being used for decorating, he said, adding they should be turned off before you go to bed or leave the home, he said. Overloading outlets is also a fire hazard, said Brandenburg.

Injuries from falls while installing outdoor lighting are not uncommon, he said.

He recommends people test lights before installing them outdoors and older homeowners find younger family members or friends to do the job for them.

"We all have a tendency to get more rushed during the holiday season, and as a result there is a greater level of carelessness," said Long Meadow Fire Department Chief Richard Roche.

Candles are a growing source of fires during the holidays and throughout the year, said Roche.

"They're becoming more popular and people need to use caution with open flames," he said.

Roche warns that you should never leave burning candles unattended or near flammable items.

Brandenburg said electric candles placed in windows can also short out and cause fires that can spread quickly by igniting curtains.

One of the most basic safety steps you can take during the holiday season and year round is to regularly check and replace batteries in smoke alarms, he said.

And while the list of recommended precautions is long and may seem inconvenient, all of them are worthwhile, said Brandenburg.

"Anything can happen," he said. "So why put yourself more at risk?"

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