Fire officials fear holiday sparks

Tony Parra

The Christmas season brings with it presents, joy and time to spend with family. But it also brings with it distractions which add to fire dangers, fire officials say.
“There are so many distractions that parents have to deal with during the holidays,” Karen Burns of the Clovis Fire Prevention Center said. “There is an increase in juvenile fire starting during mid-December because they don’t have any school and it’s cold outside. They are just looking for things to do.”
Between November of 2002 and February 2003 there were 15 calls to structure fires in Portales, more than usual, officials said. One fire was caused because children were playing with fire, according to Portales Fire Department reports.
Some of the fire dangers include dry Christmas trees, decorations, candles and temporary heaters.
“We’ve had two incidents already directly related to improper heating devices,” Portales Fire Marshall Mike Running said. “One of the incidents was caused by an electric heat lamp. Space heaters are only meant for temporary use, but people use them as a heat source, all-night long.”
Candles can also add to the fire dangers in a house, fire officials say.
“There always seems to be a fire due to candles, trees or lighting during the holidays,” Burns said. “There are five times as many lit candles during the holidays. People forget to put candles out and children will see them and play with them. They’ll put them too close to something that’s combustible.”
Dry trees are another worry for fire officials during the holidays. A helpful hint when purchasing artificial trees provided by the Family Education Web site is looking for the fire resistant label (it doesn’t mean the tree won’t catch on fire, but the tree will resist burning).
According to the Web site:
When purchasing a live tree it’s best to check for freshness. Make sure the needles are hard to pull from the branches and they don’t break when you bend them. When the trunk is tapped on the ground it should not lose many needles.
In addition, Burns said make sure and keep the tree watered.
Christmas lights are another cause of concern during the holidays. Old lights, bare wires and cracked sockets are items to look for.
“A lot of people will use old lights,” Running said. “Lights are not very expensive. I would recommend changing them every three years. If fuses are going out then that’s a warning sign.”
Each year, hospital emergency rooms nationwide treat about 8,100 people for injuries (related to Christmas decorations) and Christmas trees are the cause of more than 400 fires annually, according to the Family Education Web site.
Another danger during the holidays is carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless and extremely toxic gas. It is responsible for more deaths than any other single poison, and for enormous suffering for those who survive, according to an article by P.h.D. David G. Penney, a professor of Physiology at Wayne State University in Detroit, Mich.
“It comes from gas-fueled wall heaters, gas stoves and dryers,” Running explained. “Over time debris begins to build. It along with worn-out connectors generate carbon monoxide. There are devices that detect carbon monoxide. They each cost around $20.”
Running added that fire fighters can come to houses to test for carbon monoxide as a free service. Some of the symptoms caused by carbon monoxide are dizziness, headaches, nausea and sleepiness. There were 10 carbon monoxide poisonings or carbon monoxide alarms in Portales between November 2002 and February 2003.