Safety tips for the holiday season

·4 min read

Fire Departments across Canada remind homeowners to be vigilant this holiday season as; statistically, more fires and fire-related deaths occur over the winter holidays than any other time of the year. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), most fires occur between December 15 to December 31.

While going all out using powered ornaments to decorate and piggybacking large quantities of Christmas lights to string across the house, fence and trees to make your property stand out, there are precautions to consider when adding more lighting equipment and power cords. The NFPA has indicated on their website a 27 percent increase in fires related to electrical issues. The leading causes are frayed cords, overloaded circuits and power bars. The majority of homes are equipped with circuit breakers as a safety measure. If too much electricity is getting drawn, the breaker trips, shutting down the power. As it is a safety feature, there is still the risk of it failing to trip and, in other cases, will continue to trip over and over. Overloaded circuits carry too much electricity, which generates heat, and if undetected, the heat can cause wear on the wiring system, which can ignite a fire.

Some holiday safety tips provided by the Office of the Fire Commissioner recommend having no more than 1400 watts on a circuit. Periodically check the light strings to ensure they are not warm to the touch. LED lighting is recommended because it produces very little heat, which reduces the risk of fire. Check all cords to ensure they have a good connection and any plug-in ends don’t get buried in the snow. Above all, turn off all holiday lighting before going to bed or out for the evening.

Another fire source to consider being mindful of over the holidays is the Christmas tree. While percentages of house fires from trees have gone down, it still accounts for 29 percent of holiday fires. The majority of homeowners use artificial trees because they are safer, not as messy and quicker to set up. However, many people enjoy the traditional real tree for Christmas as it’s just that, a real tree and gives off a pleasant pine scent throughout the home. The danger of having a real tree is it becomes flammable. Dried-out Christmas trees cause more than 29 percent of home fires in January. To show how dangerous these trees can be, the Consumer Product Safety Commission conducted a study showing just how fast a dried-out Christmas tree burned. Flashover occurred in less than one minute after being in contact with a small flame. As for other festive decorations, candles accounted for 57 percent of home decoration fires. Candles get placed in the middle of decorative greens or as a table ornament. As the holiday can be hectic, people often forget they are still burning before turning in for the night. As the candle burns down, it ignites the combustible materials surrounding it, which can then spread.

During the winter months, the chances of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning also increases. According to Statistics Canada, CO is the leading cause of unintentional poisoning deaths in Canada and North America. The spike in poisoning occurs in the winter as more heat devices are getting used. Carbon monoxide is an odourless and colourless poisonous gas found in fumes from vehicle exhaust, fireplaces, furnaces or any other appliances that burn solids such as wood, liquids such as oil or gasoline and fuels such as propane or natural gas. As indicated by the Office of the Fire Commissioner, “no fuel burns 100 percent. It is the incomplete burning of fuels that produces carbon monoxide”. Safety prevention tips include installing a carbon monoxide detector in the home, maintain all appliances and ensure they are vented outside. Also, check to ensure all vents are clear of debris, including the chimney. When starting the vehicle in a garage, always open the door for adequate ventilation, and it’s safest to pull the vehicle out of the garage to prevent any buildup of CO which can seep into the home. Keeping these safety tips in mind will go a long way to having a happy holiday.

Vicki Winger, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Whitecourt Press