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Officials encourage fire safety

COVINGTON - With Thanksgiving today and Christmas right around the corner, fire officials want residents to be aware of the potential dangers that exist and what can be done to prevent a holiday tragedy.

Newton County Fire Chief Mike Satterfield said the No. 1 thing residents can do to make sure their homes and families are safe this holiday season is to have working smoke detectors in their homes.

The chief also said that with impending cold weather, more people will be using space heaters, which can create a fire hazard.

Another common fire hazard during the holidays are turkey fryers, which is why authorities are discouraging that cooking method for the popular fowl.

"You're dealing with some very large burners. A lot of times these cookers get the oil very hot very quick and a lot of people just aren't used to cooking that way," Satterfield said. "Year after year, there's someone that usually has a fire that gets out of control from cooking a turkey and it burns down the home or the garage or, physically, they get burned from the oil."

According to the National Fire Protection Association and American Burn Association, some of the risks of using a turkey fryer include:

· many turkey fryers have a risk of tipping over;

· spilling hot oil due to overfilling, which can cause burns and fires;

· lowering an unthawed or half-thawed turkey into the hot oil could cause the fryer to overflow and become engulfed in flames;

· some units do not have automatic thermostat controls, which could cause the oil to overheat, boil over and catch fire;

· the sides, lids and handles can get extremely hot and may cause burns.

If you do use a turkey fryer, authorities recommend you:

· use them outdoors and away from flammable materials;

· use them on a flat surface;

· never leave a fryer unattended;

· use a fryer with thermostat controls and monitor them;

· never allow pets or children around the fryer during or 24 hours after use;

· do not overfill them with oil;

· use well-insulated potholders or mitts when touching any part of the fryer;

· make sure the turkey is fully thawed;

· keep an all-purpose fire extinguisher nearby.

Fire officials also encourage people to follow all the instructions that come with their fryers and call 911 in case of an emergency.

In keeping with holiday fire safety, authorities also want residents to be aware of the fire dangers Christmas trees pose.

"Christmas trees are highly flammable, especially after they've been in the home a few days," the fire chief said. "Any kind of open flame around a Christmas tree can result in a very large and fast-moving fire."

Whether selecting a real or artificial tree this Christmas, authorities said there are several things to keep in mind, including:

· making sure the needles on a real tree are green and hard to pull back from branches. If you bounce the tree trunk on the ground and the needles fall from the tree, the tree has been cut too long;

· do not put a tree too close to a heat source, such as a fireplace or heat vent;

· keep a real tree stand filled with water at all times;

· when buying an artificial tree, make sure it's flame retardant;

· properly dispose of the tree by taking it to a recycling center.

Other potential Christmas fire hazards include lights, decorations and gift wrap.

"You just add a tremendous load to your electrical system at Christmas a lot of times, with all the lights and different things, and that's probably one of the biggest problems or concerns that we have," Satterfield said. "Not only are they a fire hazard, but they're a shock hazard also, and we see injuries from that."

When putting up lights, authorities recommend:

· maintaining lights by inspecting for frayed wires, bare spots, gaps in the insulation, broken or cracked sockets and excessive kinking;

· do not overload electrical outlets. No more than three light strands should be linked together, unless the directions indicate it is safe;

· do not leave lights unattended.

When buying decorations, you should only use those that are flame retardant. Also, you should not put wrapping paper in a fireplace or wood burning stove, as it may cause dangerous sparks and produce a chemical build-up in the home that could result in an explosion.

Joel Griffin can be reached at joel.griffin@newtoncitizen.com.