Holiday safety is an issue that burns brightest from late November to mid-January, when travel spikes, families gather and homes are filled with decorations.
Altona/Rhineland Emergency Services Fire Chief Greg Zimmerman wants everyone to have a merry - and safe - holiday season.
"If you get a live tree, make sure you keep it watered. When you're putting up Christmas lights, make sure everything's all in good shape. Now is a good time to check your smoke detector and your carbon monoxide detector, just in case. Make sure your families have a family fire drill and escape plan, so everybody can use it."

Zimmerman admits, right now, it's not that cold, but when in use, space heaters should be handled properly. 

"Make sure there's lots of room [around] the space heater. Also, [for] anything electrical, extension cords are really for very temporary use. If you want to plug something in for a little bit of time, please try and use the power bar."

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports local fire departments respond to more than 50,000 fires involving heating equipment, and more than 700 caused by decorations, each year. That statistic underlines the importance of unplugging all lights, decorations and portable space heaters when users are out of the room. 

An NFPA study slso found candles start more than half of all home decoration structure fires, and most of those fires occur in December. 

"If you burn candles, make sure you have them in a proper candle holder," warns Zimmerman. "Normally the best and safest candles are the ones that come in a jar, and kept on a flat surface so they don't tip over very easy. Keep the open flame away from anything that may be able to burn. Just think about it when you use them."

Most people don’t realize cooking fires are one of the leading causes of home fires. 

According to the NFPA, unattended cooking equipment is a factor in one-third of reported home cooking fires and half of the associated deaths. That fact is not lost on Zimmerman.

"When you're doing any cooking, or anything around there, try to make sure you don't have a dressing gown or something on with loose sleeves that may be a flammable type of material or combustible material. Probably the biggest thing during this season is don't do any cooking if you've been drinking adult beverages. Definitely don't drink and drive, please."

Smoking also gives firefighters cause for concern.

"It is going down, though. People are becoming, I'm not sure if it's a lot safer, or just a lot less smokers nowadays. The best thing to do is make sure you smoke outside, and cigarettes are extinguished in the proper container."

While nothing is cozier than relaxing by the fire, the chief reminds homeowners to exercise caution when using wood heaters.

"For people that still have wood heaters and still use them, if you clean out your heater, make sure the stuff you take out of your wood heater, when you store it outside, make sure it's in a metal can, and make sure it's away from the house or any structure."

Best practice dictates having heating equipment and chimneys cleaned and inspected annually by a qualified professional.

When hosting gatherings, homeowners should maintain a three-foot "kid-free zone" around open fires and space heaters. 

~With files by Candace Derksen~

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