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Fire dangers great during holiday season

by Merrie Leininger

Deck the halls, but be careful during this most fiery of seasons, warns East Fork Fire Marshal Steve Eisele.

Eisele said the holiday season is notorious for house fires and warns residents against the fire starters that have displaced Carson Valley families at Christmas.

n You start with the tree. Christmas trees are highly combustible, Eisele said, and with all the electric cords, candles and wood-burning stoves around, they can go up faster than you can light a match.

“We had an electrical fire last year. They were setting up their tree and had one of those little villages with the lights under the tree. There was an electrical short that ignited the tree and it just went up in seconds. If you get a precut tree, it was probably cut two weeks ago,” Eisele warned.

He said many precautions have to be taken with precut trees, which could have been cut up to 40 days before you bring them home.

“When you pluck the needles and they just fall off, it’s just like gas sitting there in your living room,” he said. Always get rid of the tree when it gets to that point, he said.

Artificial trees are what Eisele suggests.

“That’s what I’ve used in the last couple of years. It’s a little more expensive, but I don’t have to worry when I go to bed. After a couple of years, it’s paid for,” he said.

Live trees are also better than cut trees, he said.

However, if you get a precut tree, Eisele said to cut off the bottom of the tree so there is a fresh base and water it every day. Make sure all cords around the tree are in good condition and don’t set it near the fireplace or have candles near it.

“Don’t ever burn the tree in the fireplace. We had a guy try to do that and the whole tree flashed in his living room,” he said.

n Wood stoves. Eisele and other firefighters have already responded this season to a few house fires caused by wood stoves and the disposal of ashes.

Eisele suggested getting the chimney cleaned professionally and making sure there is a spark arrestor termination cap on the top of the chimney, especially in those homes with wood shake roofs.

“Only burn clean, seasoned wood. The more moisture in the wood, it burns cooler and that gives off more by-products,” he said.

Never burn wood with paint or oils on it because they burn extremely hot, he said.

Improper disposal of ashes has caused many fires in the area the last couple of winters, Eisele said.

“I can guarantee you something else will burn down this season (because ashes are improperly disposed.) Even if the ashes are several days old, they are still hot,” he warned.

Put the ashes in a metal bucket, preferably with a lid, and take them outside far away from the house and other combustibles to sit for a few days. Then dump them in the garbage or in a garden.

Eisele remembered the loss of a $400,000 home one Christmas eve because ashes were set on the deck, and they ignited the wood.

In the same vein, don’t set candles on anything flammable and always use a metal or glass base. Never leave a candle burning unattended.

n Electrical problems. Gas heaters are also getting turned on this time of the year and can cause fires or carbon monoxide poisoning. Have them checked out by a licensed inspector.

Space heaters and kerosene heaters are even greater hazards. Make sure your heater has a tip-over switch, which turns the heater off in case it falls over, and a thermometer, which turns it off when it gets too hot.

“If it is overheated, it will overheat anything near it and can set anything around it on fire,” he said.

With kerosene heaters, always follow user guides, never fill it while it is burning and make sure there is plenty of ventilation.

Electrical plug adapters also need to be inspected, Eisele said. Follow the directions and don’t overload the circuits. Look for UL-approved products and know how many amps each plug can carry.

“Multiple plug adapters are not designed to carry more than 15 to 20 amps, maximum. Portable heaters are 12-1/2 to 15 amps, and if you add Christmas lights to that, these things are glowing inside,” said Fire Inspector Terry Taylor.