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Feds say season brings risk of fire

December 13, 2005|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTON COUNTY

erinc@herald-mail.com

On Christmas Day, deaths, injuries and property loss from fires will increase 61 percent, according to U.S. Fire Administration data.

From Dec. 24 to 26, more than $80 million in property is destroyed nationally each year by fires, according to Administration data.

Alan Matheny, spokesman for The Volunteer Fire Co. of Halfway, said his station does not respond to many holiday-related fires.

But he knows how quickly a Christmas tree can ignite.

Whether caused by tree lights or candles placed on the tree, Matheny said, pine needles, especially dry ones, are a very serious fire hazard.

"Those pine needles get hot enough and they will finally catch on fire," he said.

He suggested that residents with Christmas trees make sure they are watered regularly. Trees become drier the longer they are indoors, and the Maryland State Fire Marshal recommends trees be removed from homes within 21 days.

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"Once they start to dry up, get them out of the house," Matheny said. "When it starts to dry out, they can go up pretty quick."

Richard Miller, Hagerstown Fire Department Assistant Fire Marshal, said Hagerstown firefighters do respond to fires caused by holiday decorations or Christmas trees.

"It's electrical overloads or dry Christmas trees," he said.

Matheny said other holiday fires are caused by frayed, old Christmas lights.

He said all lights should be approved by Underwriter's Laboratories.

Miller said data was not immediately available to show whether Hagerstown has an increase in fires over the holidays.

"I'm not sure if it's an increase, but when we do have a fire over the holiday it does seem to strike home because it is the holiday season," he said.

The Maryland State Fire Marshal released a list of holiday fire safety tips:

  • Get trees that are freshly cut.

  • Test the tree before purchase. Very few needles should fall when the tree is tapped on the ground. Needles should bend, not break.

  • Before setting up the tree, saw 2 inches diagonally off of the end.

  • Use a tree stand that has a firm base and a large water reservoir to immerse the end of the tree.

  • Avoid setting the tree near heat sources. The tree should not block windows or doors.

  • Remove the tree from the home within 21 days.

  • Use only lights listed by an approved testing laboratory such as Underwriter's Laboratories (UL).

  • Use the right lights for the right environment.

  • Inspect light sets before use. Check for cracked bulbs and broken or exposed wires.

  • Turn off all tree and decorative lights before going to bed or leaving the house.

  • Never burn gift-wrapping, boxes, cartons or other types of packing materials in a fireplace.

  • Move Christmas stocking from the mantel when the fireplace is in use.

  • Don't use Christmas trees for firewood.

  • Avoid overloading wall outlets, even for short periods.

  • Inspect all electrical cords before using them.

  • Avoid placing cords beneath carpets or rugs.
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