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Fire marshal#039;s office preaches fire safety

During the winter holidays, fire safety becomes even more important as faulty Christmas lights, overloaded outlets, space heaters and other potential hazards can start a blaze in just minutes.

During the holiday season last year, from Nov. 22, 2001 to Jan. 2, 2002, more than 1,300 residential fires occurred in Ohio, according to statistics provided by the Ohio State Fire Marshal's Office.

"Ohioans must recognize the additional risks from fire during the holiday season and take the necessary steps to reduce these risks," Robert R. Rielage, state fire marshal, said in a written statement. "This is the best way all of us can have a safe, enjoyable holiday season."

Bob Lawless, investigator from the State Fire Marshal's Office, said that each year he investigates a few fires in Lawrence County that are caused by decorations, Christmas trees drying out or electrical shorts on lights.

One of the most important things for people to avoid is overloading outlets or using lightweight extension cords that are not approved or safety checked, he said.

Powerstrips are a little safer because they have internal breakers, he said.

It is also important to make sure lights are not to close to anything flammable because they put off a lot of heat. A few years ago, Lawless said he had his outside Christmas lights too close to his vinyl siding and melted it all the was around his house.

Overall, people should just pay attention to what they use and follow all the instructions, he said.

"Things have improved in the last few years as people have become more cautious," he said. "It is in the best interest of everybody to check everything they use and be extra cautious."

Chief Tom Runyon of the Ironton Fire Department said that they do not see a major increase in calls but do almost inevitably have a Thanksgiving or Christmas fire.

The biggest cause of fires they respond to during the holidays is from unattended candles, he said. Candles should be blown out whenever they are not needed and always kept away from anything flammable.

Watering a live tree is also very important to keep the tree moist because dry pine needles can start a blaze in a matter of minutes.

"Once the trees start drying out, discard them as soon as possible because they do become extremely flammable," he said.

"Everyone needs to do everything they can to have a safe and happy holiday."

HOLIDAY SAFETY TIPS

Christmas Trees

-- When purchasing an artificial tree, look for a "Fire Resistant" label.

-- When purchasing a live tree, check for freshness by making sure the needles are soft and do not fall off.

-- Live trees need water, and lots of it. Cut about one inch off of the bottom of the trunk at a 45 degree angle before putting the tree in the stand. Add water and check daily. Dry trees can burn in seconds.

-- Don't block your exit with your tree.

-- Remove live trees from your home as soon as possible. Most Christmas tree fires occur on or after New Year's Day.

Lights

-- Check each set for damaged sockets or wires. Discard bad sets.

-- Use UL approved light sets. Follow the manufacturer recommendations concerning the maximum number of light sets that can be connected together.

-- Replace burnt out bulbs with bulbs of the same wattage.

-- Turn off all lights when you go to bed or leave the house.

-- Never use electric lights on a metallic tree. You could be electrocuted.

-- Use only light sets and extension cords marked "for outdoor use" outside

your home.

-- Fasten outdoor lights securely with insulated staples or hooks. Use circuits protected by ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs).

Decorations

-- Use only non-combustible or flame-resistant materials to trim a tree.

-- Never use lighted candles on or near a tree or other evergreens.

-- Keep children and pets in mind when placing decorations on a tree.

Fireplaces/Heaters

-- Before starting a fire in a fireplace, remove all decorations including stockings and be sure the flue is open.

-- Do not burn wrapping papers in the fireplace. They can burn extremely fast;throwing off sparks and can ignite build up within the chimney.

-- Always use a screen in front of the fireplace. Also consider using a

fire-resistant carpet or a mat on the floor in front of the fireplace.

-- Keep all combustible materials, including wrapping paper away from heaters.

-- When plugging in electric heaters, make sure that the outlet was designed

to handle the load. Do not plug anything else into the socket with the heater.

-- When using kerosene heaters, make sure you use the correct fuel only. The wrong fuel may cause a fire or explosion.

Tips provided by the Ohio State Fire Marshal's Web site.