Five tips from Markham Fire and Emergency Services to celebrate the Chinese New Year safely

·3 min read

COVID-19 safety measures have prohibited large gatherings, but many Asian-Canadian families will be celebrating at home for this Lunar New Year on Feb. 12.

For many of them, celebrations mean not only having a reunion dinner, but also worshipping the ancestors.

A lot of people go to pray at the temple on New Year’s Eve. In a normal year, Cham Shan Temple in Thornhill would be very crowded, but this year, because of COVID-19, people might decide to pray at home instead of going to the temple.

Some traditional praying methods include burning paper money and incense, as well as lighting candles and lanterns. If they are not careful, the celebration can become dangerous.

Markham’s fire prevention officer Alex Chan provides a few tips on how to stay safe during the Chinese New Year.

In Markham, candles are the fourth leading cause of residential fires in 2020. With Lunar New Year and Valentine’s Day around the corner, Chan reminds everyone to be cautious when using candles.

“Some people often light candles and put them somewhere, and then forget about it,” Chan said. That would be not romantic, but dangerous.

As a Hong Kong immigrant, Chan understands the traditional custom of burning offerings and incense during the Spring Festival. However, burning objects inside a house or apartment is completely forbidden, even in the garage.

“Burning incense for ancestors at home is fine, but be sure to use a proper container. Do not put incense on an orange,” he warned. Meanwhile, keep incense away from drapes, pillows, bedding and anything that can burn.

In addition, if you want to celebrate the new year with some family fireworks, you need a permit from the City of Markham and a working fire extinguisher. More information can be found on the Family Fireworks Permit page.

Some people also like to make red lanterns and use them to decorate their homes during the Spring Festival. “My advice is, put battery-powered candles or an LED bulb inside the lanterns to be extra safe,” Chan added.

Most fires start from cooking left unattended. “Chinese people especially like fried food for their New Year's Eve dinner; make sure you turn on the ventilation when cooking with oil,” Chan said, suggesting that people buy an oil thermometer, so that you can see the temperature clearly, rather than having to tell by bubbles.

In some scenarios, if a pot or pan is on fire, turn off the power first and cover it with a lid or flat metal pan. Do not throw water on a grease fire.

The Spring Festival is the most important day of the year for all Chinese people, and Chan hopes that these tips will help everyone to enjoy a safe and wonderful holiday.

Fire Chief Adam Grant echoes Chan’s sentiment. While people are enjoying time at home with their family, he encourages residents to take the time to ensure that they are celebrating safely.

“On behalf of Markham Fire and Emergency Services, I’d like to wish a happy Chinese New Year to those celebrating in the City of Markham community,” Grant said.

Scarlett Liu, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Economist & Sun