Local Fire Officials Offer Tips to Avoid Holiday Fires

By Addison Speck, Reporter

LINN COUNTY, Iowa - Every year, the Cedar Rapids and Marion Fire Departments see an increase in residential structure fires during the holiday season. "People heating their homes, the extra amount of decorating people do in their homes and also to increase the amount of cooking that goes on in the kitchen in the holidays," said Greg Buelow, Media Relations Officer of the Cedar Rapids Fire Department.

When it comes to trees officials offer this advice: If you have a real tree make sure you water it daily and cut an inch or so off the bottom so the tree can hydrate. If you are using a fake tree, make sure it's flame resistant. Don't keep either type of tree near fireplaces, heaters, or other heat sources. Also, be sure decorations are never blocking an exit.

When it comes to lights Deb Krebill, Deputy Chief of the Marion Fire Department, offers this advice: "It's just like when you're shopping for foods you want to read the labels," she said. Look for a UL Listed label. It stands for Underwriters Laboratory Listing. "That means it's been tested by an independent laboratory and its passed some fire safety tests," said Buelow.

Make sure whatever the lights are labeled, indoor or outdoor, that's where you use them. "They are not really interchangeable," said Buelow. He also warns people to avoid using nails to tack down lights outside because it can damage the wires.

Be sure to look at the box to see how many strands of lights you can connect. "On the package it will say three or five, so you want to be sure you only string that many together and plug that into an outlet," said Krebill.

If you are someone who will use last year's lights make sure to check for frayed wires and broken bulbs. Officials recommend if you find either of the two to just throw the lights away and buy brand new. "If you look at the strand of lights and you touch the wiring between the two Christmas lights and it's hot to the touch, that means the wiring is starting to break down, so replace it," said Buelow.

Don't leave your lights on all day and night. "With both types of trees, what we really want you to do is unplug them when you go to bed at night and when you are not at home," said Krebill. Be careful not to pinch wiring behind furniture, gifts, or other furniture. If you use a power strip, officials recommend using one with a reset button, so if the strip gets to hot it will automatically shut off.

Officials add to be careful about leaving candles lit and walking away from anything you are cooking. "If people leave the room, that stuff can get out of control in a hurry. Especially grease on a stove. You never want to leave that," said Buelow.

Buelow also recommends having your furnace and fireplace inspected. "So far this year we've had nearly 30 incidents that firefighters have been called to where there has been a dangerous level of carbon monoxide in the home," he said. Symptoms related to high doses of carbon monoxide are comparable to flu symptoms. There are alarms and tools that can be purchased to measure levels in the home. If you are ever concerned about a strange smell, don't hesitate to contact officials.

For additional information you can visit: http://www.usfa.fema.gov/citizens/home_fire_prev/holiday-seasonal/holiday.shtm
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