Keeping the season safe: Holiday safety checks important

It happens every year, but doesn’t have to. Minot firemen respond to fires related to holiday decorations or wintertime changes to the home. An outbreak of fire presents a myriad of dangers and will certainly spoil the Christmas season.

When it comes to those joyous displays of Christmas lights and other decoration, inside and out, particular attention should be given to selection of extension cords. If an extension cord is not rated high enough for the chosen purpose, or used improperly, it could be the cause of an unwanted fire.

“Electricity causes a lot of fire,” said Stuart Hammer, Minot Fire Department inspector. “Extension cords are rated for certain power. Don’t draw more energy than you should. Check cords for cracks, burn marks or exposed wires. Don’t try to repair them yourself.”

Perhaps one of the aspects of using extension cords that is often overlooked is having cords of the proper length. If an extension cord is too long for a certain application it can create a fire danger. Hammer says there is a way to avoid some risk.

“Don’t leave excess cord piled or coiled. They will transfer heat through the coil and create issues,” explained Hammer. “Stretch cords to their full length so they can dissipate the heat.”

Almost every home utilizes what Hammer describes as “little brown or white extension cords.” Most of those are rated for 1,625 watts. The information should be listed on the Underwriter’s Laboratory tag affixed to the cord. A formula to remember when determining how many watts are available from a particular circuit is to multiply volts times amps.

“People should know what power is available to them in their homes,” said Hammer. “If you are on 110 volts with a 20 amp breaker, what you are looking at is 2,200 watts available.”

Over-loading an extension cord for more power than what it is rated for can lead to problems of over-heating and create a possible ignition source for a fire.

The most common Christmas decoration, the Christmas tree, deserves special attention so that it does not become an instant and dangerous problem. The most important thing when using a real Christmas tree, emphasizes Hammer, is to keep it watered. The alternative can be deadly.

“A dry tree will go up so fast you won’t even have time to think about it. It will get real hot and smoky, real quick,” said Hammer. “And, by all means, unplug them at night.”

Cooking during the holiday season makes the kitchen a popular place. However, congestion should be avoided in the interest of safety. Too many cooks may or may not spoil the broth, but they might increase the risk of fire starting in the kitchen.

“Keep combustibles away from the stove. Any number of things can happen,” said Hammer. “Discard what you don’t need right away. Make sure you are close by when cooking on top of the stove.”

Candles are often used during the Christmas season, for both ambiance and scent. They are an ignition source that is sometimes forgotten.

“Don’t leave them unattended. You want to have constant supervision over candles, any open flames,” warned Hammer.

Throughout the Christmas season and beyond is a time when usage of portable heaters in homes is increased. Again, if extension cords are used, they must be rated to handle the proper amount of electricity for each heater. Placement of the heaters is important too.

“Keep them away from a bed or blankets or anything else,” cautioned Hammer. “Be in the house when you are operating them. If something happens it’ll go quick.”

Other precautions to make a home safe during the winter season include a furnace check-up to insure they are operating properly and the use of smoke alarms.

“Make sure those detectors are in proper working condition,” advised Hammer. “Carbon monoxide detectors wouldn’t hurt either.”