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NEWS | Dec. 5, 2013

Fire officials offer advice to keep holiday season safe

By Robert Goetz Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Public Affairs

Brightly colored lights, flickering candles and festive Christmas trees greatly contribute to the ambience of the holiday season.

However, accidents involving them result in more than 400 home fires and more than 20 deaths each year, according to the National Fire Protection Association and the U.S. Fire Administration.

Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph fire officials said following a few simple tips can keep the holidays safe.

Lighting safety begins with Christmas trees, which account for most of the fires during the holiday season, James Smith, JBSA-Randolph Fire Emergency Services fire protection services inspector, said. Keeping a natural tree watered is an important consideration.

"Typically, shorts in electrical lights or open flames from candles, lighters or matches start tree fires," he said. "Well-watered trees are not a problem; a dry and neglected tree can be."

Smith also advised choosing a fresh tree, which should have green needles that do not break, as well as a trunk that is sticky to the touch; not placing the tree close to a heat source; keeping the tree stand filled with water at all times; and discarding the tree when it becomes dry by taking it to a recycling center or having it hauled away.

An alternative to a live tree is a fire-resistant, nonmetallic artificial tree.

Maintaining holiday lights is another important safety measure because worn strands are fire hazards, Smith said.

"You should inspect your lights each year for frayed wires, bare spots, gaps in the insulation, broken or cracked sockets and excessive kinking," he said.

Overloading electrical outlets can also cause fires, Smith said.

"You should not link more than three light strands, unless the directions say it is safe," he said. "Strings of lights should be connected to an extension cord before the cord is plugged into an outlet."

It's also important to use nonflammable or flame-retardant decorations, Smith said.

Candles are another prevalent safety hazard during the holidays, Cody Fein, JBSA-Randolph Fire Emergency Services assistant chief, said.

"December is the peak time of year for home candle fires," she said. "In December, 11 percent of home candle fires began with decorations compared to 4 percent the rest of the year."

Fein recommended the use of battery-operated flameless candles.

"They look and smell real," she said. "Flameless candles can give you safety and decoration without the hazards of open flames around children and surrounding materials."

When real candles are used, they should be handled with care, Smith added.

"If you do use lit candles, make sure they are in stable holders and place them where they cannot be easily knocked down," he said. "In addition, never leave the house with candles burning and never place lighted candles on a tree."

Smith's overall message for fire safety during the holidays is to stay vigilant and use good common sense.

"If it seems unsafe, it probably is," he said.