Officials offer holiday safety tips

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Alpena Fire Captain Andy Marceau shows off a smoke alarm that the fire department offers to residents who need them. According to Chief Bill Forbush, there is a higher risk of fire during the holiday season than much of the rest of the year.

ALPENA — The holiday season is one for celebration, but it is also a time when the risk of house fires is at its highest.

Local fire officials say there are simple steps people can take to protect their property and loved ones to help prevent a Christmas catastrophe.

According to Alpena Fire Chief Bill Forbush, unsupervised or faulty Christmas decorations can start a fire, which can quickly become out of control. He said candles, malfunctioning strings of lights, and cooking mishaps are often the cause of fires. He said today’s technology offers LED candles that can mimic the resemblance of a real flame.

Forbush said closely inspecting Christmas lights for damage or shorts in the wiring can help avoid someone from having their holidays spoiled by a fire.

“More people use candles during the holidays and we have had a number of fires in Alpena caused by them,” he said. “It is a big deal. A pet can knock a candle over, someone could brush by it and knock it over, and there really is no reason for it at this point. Not with the awesome alternatives out there now.”

People who purchase Christmas lights, or intend to use lights they have accumulated over the years should make sure they are UL listed. UL, or Underwriter’s Laboratory is an independent product certification organization, which creates standards and tests for electrical and other products.

Products deemed safe by UL will have a tag or sticker on them to make it easily known to consumers.

In Northeast Michigan, many people like to display real or freshly cut trees to hang their lights and bulbs on. Forbush said people don’t often realize how often they need to be watered, which results in the tree drying up and becoming susceptible to catching fire. He said a fresh tree can consume up to one quart of water, each day, for every inch in diameter for the stump.

He said for the average Christmas tree, which is about seven feet tall and has a three inch diameter stump, three quarts of water are needed daily.

“Most people don’t water their trees nearly that much and when they become dry they become a huge hazard, especially since they are covered in electric lights and a possibility of sparks,” Forbush said.

As families prepare for Thanksgiving, Forbush said fires are often started by people trying to cook their turkeys in deep-fryers.

“It is always an issue,” he said.

Now that winter has arrived and brought colder temperatures with it, more people are utilizing portable space heaters to help keep their homes warm. Forbush said such heaters should always be plugged directly into a wall socket and never into extension cords or power strips.

He said it is important to make sure heaters are not left unattended and to double check to make sure they are shut off if nobody is home. Forbush said small space heaters should be set up away from anything that is combustible.

“You want to make sure they aren’t by the wooden counter, the pile of newspapers, or anything that could potentially ignite,” he said.

Forbush said space-heaters should not be used in bathrooms where there are often highly flammable aerosol products.

“The hairspray or deodorant has propellant in them, which is a flammable gas,” Forbush said. “If it catches a spark from a space-heater, it isn’t going to be a good thing.”

If a fire does start, Forbush said the first thing people should do is get everyone out of the home and call 911. He said even small fires can spread quickly, so every second matters. He said, most times, fire extinguishers offer little help, but he added that a five-pound, dry-chemical extinguisher can sometimes be useful.

Anything smaller, Forbush said, will likely not put a dent in the blaze.

“They should only be your last resort,” he said. “We would rather people use the time that it takes to find and use the extinguisher, to get everyone out of the house and call 911. We’ll come and put it out.”

Forbush said the holiday season is also a good time to test and change batteries in fire and carbon dioxide detectors. He said people who don’t have any installed in their homes, can get one for free at the public safety facility.

Contact Captain Andy Marceau at 989-354-1850 for more information on the smoke and carbon dioxide detectors.


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