Avoid holiday mishaps with these fire safety tips

Halen Doughty

Ascension Parish residents are encouraged to practice fire safety as temperatures drop this week entering the holiday season. Holiday hallmarks like Christmas trees, cooking, candles, and heaters can be fire hazards. Ascension Parish fire chiefs and the National Fire Protection Association remind citizens of the potential dangers around the home.

“By knowing where potential fire hazards exist and taking the needed steps to prevent them, people can enjoy the season’s celebrations and traditions while keeping their families, guests and homes safe,” said Lorraine Carli, vice president of NFPA’s Outreach and Advocacy division.

Christmas is still weeks away, but temperatures are dropping now. With the colder nights come the increased need for heaters inside your home. St. Amant Fire Chief James LeBlanc said citizens should be sure to heat their homes safely during the coming cold weeks.

"Ascension Residents are reminded that the use of cooking burners and ovens is not a good idea to heat your home during the expected low cold temperatures coming our way in the next couple days," stated LeBlanc.

The St. Amant Volunteer Fire Department wants residents to stay safe and warm as winter weather approaches. That starts by having your home's heating equipment and chimneys inspected every year by a qualified professional. If you build a fire in your fireplace, be sure to keep a screen around it and never leave it unattended.

Donaldsonville Fire Chief James MacDonald warned residents to be cautious when using alternative heating sources like space heaters. He said check the area around the heater to make sure it is far away from flammable materials like curtains and bedding. He added that heaters can be unstable and fall over, so it's important to make sure no combustibles are near the heat source. MacDonald noted they see an uptick in fires caused by alternative heat sources during the colder months.

LeBlanc added space heaters should be turned off before leaving or going to sleep. Keep pets and children away from space heaters, and never use them to dry wet clothes. Be sure to check for frayed or split wires before use.

MacDonald reminds residents that gas-powered heaters can create carbon monoxide. If using gas or propane to heat your home, be sure to install a carbon monoxide detector. MacDonald said it is a tasteless, odorless gas that is almost impossible to detect without the proper equipment.

"You don't smell it, you don't know it's there," said MacDonald. "It ends up knocking you out, and you could end up dying from it."

Even if you’re using your stove for cooking rather than heating, a fire can still break out. Cooking fires are the leading cause of home fires and injuries year-round, according to the NFPA. Christmas Day was the third leading day for cooking fires in 2015, behind Thanksgiving Day and the day before Thanksgiving. MacDonald said cooking fires cause most of the fires they respond to throughout the year. He recommends keeping a fire extinguisher on hand at all times. Make sure it’s easily accessible from the kitchen.

Christmas trees can be another fire hazard during the holiday season. Live trees will dry out if they are not properly watered, which can be dangerous especially if the tree is wrapped with lights. LeBlanc said it's very important to water your Christmas tree.

"A dry tree will go up in seconds," said LeBlanc. "Those flames can quickly spread to other items like curtains and furniture."

LeBlanc said it's estimated that over 200 homes catch fire each year due to dry trees. He said residents should make sure their tree is at least three feet away from any heat source like a fireplace, candles, or heat vents. Water the tree daily, and always turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving the home or going to bed.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, while Christmas tree fires are not overly common, they are often deadly compared to other home fires. One in every 32 Christmas tree home fires results in a death, compared to the average one death per 143 reported home fires.

A good fire prevention tip any time of year is to be sure your smoke detector is working properly. Detectors should be checked monthly, and batteries should be changed annually. All detectors should be changed every ten years.

MacDonald said it's important for your family to have a game plan in case of a fire. He encourages parents to talk to their kids about an escape plan and meeting place outside the home if they need to evacuate. There should be two escape routes for each room of the house, whether it's a window or a door. He reminds citizens to never go back inside a burning home for any reason, just wait until the fire department arrives.

Follow these tips to ensure a safe and happy holiday season for you and your family.

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