COVINGTON -- Newton County Fire Service is offering a few fire prevention tips in the hopes of keeping someone's holiday from going up in flames.
"For most of us, the holiday season represents a time for family festivities and good cheer. What few of us consider is that the holiday season is a time when there is an increased risk of home fires," NCFS fire safety educator Lt. Cydnie Taylor said.
Taylor said many households engage in holiday activities that serve as some of the leading causes of home fires nationally, including cooking, Christmas trees and other holiday decorations, and candle usage.
"As everyone gets busier during the holidays, we often become rushed, distracted or tired. That's when home fires are more likely to occur," Taylor said, adding, "Unfortunately, in Newton County, last year's holiday season brought with it careless cooking incidents and home heating mishaps that caused disaster for some Newton County residents."
But Taylor believes with a little added awareness and some minor adjustments to holiday cooking and decorating, the season can remain festive and safe for everybody.
"By taking some preventative steps and following simple rules of thumb, most home fires can be prevented," she said.
With unattended cooking as the leading cause of U.S. home fires and home fire injuries, Taylor urges residents to stay in the kitchen while frying, grilling or broiling food. Most cooking fires involve the stove top, so keep anything that can catch fire away from it, and turn off the stove when leaving the kitchen, even if it's for a short period of time.
"If you're simmering, boiling, baking or roasting food, check it regularly and use a timer to remind you that you're cooking," Taylor suggested. She also recommended creating a "kid-free zone" of at least 3 feet around the stove and areas where hot food and drinks are prepared or carried.
Candles are widely used in homes throughout the holidays, and December is the peak month for home candle fires. The nonprofit National Fire Protection Association's statistics show that more than half of all candle fires start because the candles had been placed too close to things that could catch fire.
The NCFS encourages Newton County residents to consider using flameless candles, which look and smell like real candles.
"However, if you do use traditional candles, keep them at least 12 inches away from anything that can burn, and remember to blow them out when you leave the room or go to bed," Taylor said. "Use candle holders that are sturdy, won't tip over and are placed on uncluttered surfaces. Avoid using candles in the bedroom where two of five U.S. candle fires begin or other areas where people may fall asleep. Lastly, never leave a child alone in a room with a burning candle."
According to NFPA, U.S. fire departments annually respond to an average of 250 structure fires caused by Christmas trees. Nearly half of them are caused by electrical problems, and one in four resulted from a heat source that's too close to the tree. NCFS offers the following advice for picking, placing and lighting the tree:
* If you have an artificial tree, be sure it's labeled, certified or identified by the manufacturer as fire-retardant.
* If you choose a fresh tree, make sure the green needles don't fall off when touched. Before placing it in the stand, cut 1 to 2 inches from the base of the trunk. Add water to the tree stand, and be sure to water it daily.
* Make sure the tree is not blocking an exit, and is at least 3 feet away from any heat source, like fireplaces, space heaters, radiators, candles and heat vents or lights.
* Use lights that have the label of an independent testing laboratory, and make sure you know whether they are designed for indoor or outdoor use.
* Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords, or loose bulb connections. Connect no more than three strands of mini-string sets and a maximum of 50 bulbs for screw-in bulbs.
* Never use lit candles to decorate the tree.
* Always turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving the home or going to bed.
* After Christmas, get rid of the tree. Dried-out trees are a fire hazard and should not be left in the home or garage or placed outside the home. Participate in Newton County's Christmas tree recycling program.
* Bring outdoor electrical lights inside after the holidays to prevent hazards and make them last longer.
"The holidays can quickly turn from joyful to tragic when a fire occurs," Taylor said. "By taking simple precautions, people can avoid potential fire hazards, and make this time of year a healthy and happy one."
Visit www.nfpa.org/holiday for more information and safety tips.