Cold weather, holidays increase fire threat

New Hampshire State Fire Marshal, Bill Degnan, urges everyone to be safety conscious during colder weather and throughout the holiday season.

“Cold weather causes a higher fire threat due to increased uses of heating sources, such as electrical space heaters, fireplaces and wood stoves. This, coupled with increased cooking activity, the use of extra holiday lights, candles and other decorations, pose an even greater threat for fires and fire deaths,” said Degnan.

Through the middle of October, 16 people died in fires in New Hampshire, two people died from carbon monoxide and one from a building collapse.

In New Hampshire, fire deaths typically increase during the colder months from November through February. The major causes of home heating fires are from heaters, wood stoves and fireplaces.

The use of decorations and candles for holidays also increases the possibilities for deadly fires.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, latest statistics show that 150 deaths, more than 1,200 injuries, and an estimated 15,600 home structure fires were started by candles.

The New Hampshire State Fire Marshal’s Office suggests the following safety tips to ensure a safe and happy holiday season:

• General heating tips: Keep any heater at least 3 feet away from anything that might burn. This means curtains, walls, furniture, papers. To avoid injury and other mishaps, keep children and pets away from heaters. Don’t use a small device for a big job. For best results, direct the heat from a portable heater where you want it.

• Christmas trees: When keeping a cut tree in the house, special fire safety precautions need to be taken. A burning tree can rapidly fill a room with fire and deadly gases. Make sure needles are green and hard to pull back from the branches when choosing a tree. The trunk should be re-cut so it easily absorbs water. Keep your tree away from heat sources. Your tree should be kept in water throughout its recommended two-week life. Locate the tree away from exits and use only cool lamp listed and approved lights. The use of tree lights should be limited to only times when the room is occupied.

• Cooking safety: Pay particular attention while cooking, especially when using oils and grease. Cooking appliances should be kept clean of grease build-up. Applying a lid to a small grease fire is usually the most effective and safest method of controlling it. If the fire is inside your oven, turn off the heat and leave the door closed to cut off the fire’s air supply. Young children should be kept away from cooking appliances to prevent any mishaps. It’s always a good idea to use back burners when possible and keep pot handles turned to the inside so they won’t be pulled or knocked over. Check stoves and other appliances before going to bed or leaving your home to make sure that the units are left in the “off” position. NFPA and the National Burn Foundation discourage the use of turkey fryers.

• Holiday lights: Inspect holiday lights each year for frayed wires, bare spots, gaps in the insulation and broken or cracked sockets. Do not link more than three light strands unless the directions indicate it is safe. However tempting, it is not recommended to leave your lights burning overnight or while you are away from home.

• Candle safety: If you choose to use lit candles, make sure they are in globes or stable holders. Place them where they cannot be easily knocked down or come in contact with combustibles. Never leave lit candles unattended. Lit candles should not be placed on or near your Christmas tree or near anything that can burn. Young children can be fascinated with a burning flame, so be sure candles, lighters or matches are not in reach of curious hands.

Now is a great time to test your smoke alarms and to review your home escape plan so that if in the event of a fire, everyone in your household knows how to get out quickly and safely. For even greater protection, consider installing a residential fire sprinkler system.