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Our Opinion: Emphasize fire safety during winter

Residential fires proliferate during winter holidays.

Anecdotal reports suggest it, and the state fire marshal’s office confirms it.

Heaters, Christmas trees, cooking and candles are among the causes of fires this time of year, according to State Fire Marshal Randy Cole.

“Because of colder temperatures, people are heating their homes and spending more time indoors,” he said. “In addition, there are holiday celebrations and decorations — including candles and Christmas trees — and an increase in cooking for family gatherings. All these are factors in the increase in fires.”

In recent weeks, a number of area residential fires have displaced families and strained local aid organizations.

In some cases, the causes have been traced to other sources or remain undetermined, but statistics pertaining to winter residential fires are alarming.

Consider:

• Nationwide, Christmas tree fires cause about 200 home fires and injure dozens of people annually, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

• An estimated 17,400 home candle fires each year kill about 180 people, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. In December, 13 percent of home candle fires begin with decorations, compared with 4 percent the rest of the year.

• Cooking is the leading cause of winter residential building fires at 36 percent, followed by heating at 23 percent.

Safety recommendations include:

• Avoid using real candles.

• Don’t leave lighted Christmas trees or other decorative lighting displays unattended.

• Keep live Christmas trees watered and locate them farther than 3 feet from fireplaces, space heaters, radiators or heat vents.

• Do not burn Christmas tree branches, treated wood or wrapping paper in a home fireplace.

• Be cautious when cooking and be prepared to extinguish a cooking fire. Remember, never put water on a grease fire.

Finally, the fire marshal reminds everyone to be sure smoke alarms, fire extinguishers and carbon monoxide detectors are working properly.

Cole characterizes fire safety as “one of the best gifts you can give your family and the people you entertain this holiday season.”

As gifts go, it certainly is among the least expensive and most valuable.

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