Don’t Let The Holidays Go Up In Smoke!
By Jay Hensley
Taking certain safety precautions with Christmas trees, strings of lights, chimneys, furnaces and stoves can help safeguard your home from fire.
Santa’s happy visit is all too often followed by sad ones – first from the local fire department, then from the insurance adjuster.
There’s an upswing in accidental house fires every year during the holidays. Most of these fires could be prevented if people would use more common sense in preparing their homes for the holidays and managing their fireplaces and stoves.
Let’s look at that enduring symbol of Christmas, the tree – artificial, live-cut, or balled and burlapped for planting – and follow some tried and true safety precautions.
Artificial Christmas Trees
Some of these look real. Sprayed with pine scent, they even smell real. They may also burn like a real tree! Make sure the string of lights you decorated them with has no frayed or broken wiring and don’t place the tree too close to fireplace, wood-burning stove, electric, gas, or kerosene space heaters or holiday candles. Keep them a safe distance from an open flame and at least 36 inches from any electrical heating elements.
Metal trees pose an added danger of electrocution if you use a faulty string of lights.
A Freshly Cut Tree
Plan to have it up no longer than two weeks. Buy the freshest tree you can find, with its needles still holding tight.
Unless you bring a fresh-cut tree in from the woods yourself, it’s best to recut the trunk, as a fresh-cut tree will absorb water better. Set it in a holder that lets you keep adding water to slow the drying process. Place the tree in the coolest part of the room, keeping it way from hot-air registers.
Throw out any faulty or frayed strings of lights and invest in new ones this year.
Live Tree for Planting
This one won’t try out as quickly, but you still need to keep the ball moist and use the same precautions you would with a cut tree.
The sooner you get the tree out of the house and into the ground, the more chance it will have of surviving. And unless you dig that hole ahead of time, frozen ground may spoil your plans.
Safe Tree Disposal
Shooting flames from burning evergreen branches in stove or fireplace have started many a chimney fire.
Put the tree out on the curb for the trash collectors, or have an end-of-the-holidays bonfire if there’s a safe and legal place to burn it outdoors.
For the same reason, don’t burn wrapping paper and boxes in fireplace or stove. Flaming pieces of paper pulled out by a strong draft can also set a roof afire.
Chimney fires are also associated with another “holiday” – Super Bowl Sunday. Don’t throw your pizza boxes in the fireplace!
More about Light Sets
Don’t ever use strings of outdoor lights on a tree indoors. These usually produce too much heat to be safe if they tough tree branches, combustible ornaments of gift wrap.
If you must use an extension cord with a light set, make sure it is a heavy-duty cord in mint condition. Do not run it under a carpet, which could keep heat building up in the cord from escaping, thus leading to a breakdown of the cord’s insulation and a possible fire. Don’t lay the cord across a bare floor where it could be stepped on. Never use an adapter which allows you to plug four or fire strings of lights into one outlet.
Ash Disposal & Chimney Fires
There are always a few holiday fires traced to “cold” ashes stored in a grocery sack or cardboard box. Instead, scoop ashes into a metal container, cover it and set it outdoors away from combustibles. Most people underestimate the dangers of a flue fire. It can damage a flue liner and spread to the structure of the house through a cracked or deteriorating chimney.
Even when a stout flue withstands the fire, intense heat from burning creosote can ignite wood structure on the other side of the chimney! Burn small, hot fires fed by plenty of air to minimize creosote build-up on flue walls. Air-starved fires in stoves and inserts cause excessive creosote deposits. (Creosote burns with blast-furnace intensity; so if a chimney fire does occur, call the fire department!)
Chimney Sweep Services
A sound, well-maintained flue the right size for the appliance it serves is the best protection against a chimney fire. A professional chimney sweep can clean, repair, even reline it for you. Hire a chimney sweep to service your stoves, fireplaces and flues once a year.
But until he or she can get to you, use your fireplace or stove as little as possible, and preferably not at all.
More Safety Tips
- Make sure fire extinguishers, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are in working order. You do have these, don’t you?
- NEVER use flammable liquid to start a fire.
- Use a metal fireplace screen.
- If you have a glass fireplace doors, close them when you leave the room or go to bed.
Fire Drills Save Lives
Develop and practice a family escape plan. Provide rope escape ladders for upper stories and pick out a meeting place for everyone outside.
Reprinted, with permission, from the December 2007 issue of The Chimney Sweep News, an independent trade magazine for chimney service professionals. Jim Gillam, editor/publisher. 541-882-5196. www.ChimneySweepNews.com