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Officials urge caution with decorating, heating during the holidays

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Alpena Fire Department employees Abby Smith, left, Phil Curley, and Ryan Wright show off smoke detectors that people should have in their homes. Outside of the Fourth of July, the Christmas season is the peak time for house fires. Usually the fires start from holiday decorations, or portable heaters.

ALPENA — The Christmas holiday season trails only the Fourth of July in terms of the amount of accidental fires that often claim people’s homes.

As people set up their Christmas trees and decorate their homes for the holidays, the chances of a fire igniting increase significantly, local fire officials say.

By the same token, as temperatures drop, and people use alternate sources of heat to stay warm, house fires become more common.

Alpena Fire Chief Bill Forbush said approximately half of the fires during the holiday season are traced back to candles. He said faulty Christmas decorations, portable space heaters, and fires in the kitchen also contribute to fires.

Forbush said when people use alternate heating sources, like kerosene or propane, they need to use extra caution when filling the heaters with fuel, and while they are ignited.

“They should be fueled outside, not inside, and not outside on a wooden porch,” he said. “Do it while the device is cool, not when it is warm or still on. ”

When putting lights on trees or on areas of a home, inside or out, Forbush said having appropriate extension cords is important. He said if they aren’t approved, they should not be used because they don’t meet the minimum fire safety standards.

“Do yourself a favor and spend the extra two dollars,” he said. “If they are cheap, then they are probably not UL approved.”

Forbush said people should also make sure their smoke and carbon dioxide detectors are operating properly. Additionally, Forbush said people should have a five pound dry-chemical fire extinguisher to put out small fires.

Forbush said the type of Christmas tree you have can reduce or increase the likelihood of a fire. He said fresh trees can easily start on fire when they become dry. Once they are ablaze, the fire can spread quickly and consume an entire room and home.

Artificial trees however, are made of flame-retardant material and are less likely to catch fire, Forbush said.

As more lights and heaters are used, Forbush said he knows more calls will come in regarding fires from their use. He said once a fire begins, people need to call 911 right away and exit the home.

“To be honest, fighting a fire inside your home is not the best thing for a homeowner to do. The best thing to do is get out,” Forbush said. “Never hesitate to call the fire department if there is any concern whatsoever. It is better to be safe than sorry.”

Steve Schulwitz can be reached at 989-358-5689 at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ss_alpenanews.com.

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