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December 23. 2012 9:35PM

Take steps to minimize risk of fire ruining Christmas plans

GOFFSTOWN - While the holiday season is a time for family festivities and good cheer, it can also mean an increased risk of home fires.

According to Goffstown Fire Prevention Officer Lt. William Connor, many households decorate with items that are some of the leading causes of home fires, including Christmas trees and candles.

Combustible decorations combined with the hectic nature of the holidays can increase the chance of home fires, said Connor.

"As everyone gets busier during the holidays, we often become rushed, distracted or tired," he said. "That's when home fires are more likely to occur."

By taking some preventative steps and following simple rules of thumb, most home fires can be prevented.

"People don't always properly maintain Christmas trees," Connor said. "You're bringing them into a heated environment."

Connor offered some tips, provided by the state Fire Marshal's office.

If you have an artificial tree, be sure it's labeled, certified or identified by the manufacturer as fire-retardant.

If you choose a fresh tree, make sure the green needles don't fall off when touched; before placing it in the stand, cut 2" from the base of the trunk. Add water to the tree stand, and be sure to water it daily.

Make sure the tree is not blocking an exit, and is at least three feet away from any heat source, including fireplaces, space heaters, radiators, candles and heat vents or lights.

Use lights that have the label of an independent testing laboratory, and make sure you know whether they are designed for indoor or outdoor use.

Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords, or loose bulb connections. Connect no more than three strands of mini-string sets and a maximum of 50 bulbs for screw-in bulbs.

Never use lit candles to decorate the tree.

Always turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving the home or going to bed.

After Christmas, get rid of the tree. Dried-out trees are a fire hazard and should not be left in the home or garage, or placed outside the home. Check your local community for a Christmas tree recycling program.

Bring outdoor electrical lights inside after the holidays to prevent hazards and make them last longer.

Connor said in a fire, "it's amazing how quickly and how fast they burn. A living room could be fully involved within minutes."

Candles are widely used in homes throughout the holidays, and December is the peak month for home candle fires. The National Fire Protection Association's (NFPA) statistics show almost half of all home decoration fires are started by candles.

The type of candle makes a difference in how it burns, Connor said, especially jar candles.

"You get what you pay for with candles," he said. "The cheaper ones have a lower-grade glass and can burst."

Some safety precautions should be used with traditional candles as well. Keep them at least 12" away from anything that can burn, and remember to blow them out when you leave the room or go to bed. Use candle holders that are sturdy, won't tip over and are placed on uncluttered surfaces. Avoid using candles in the bedroom where one-third of U.S. candle fires begin or other areas where people may fall asleep. Lastly, never leave a child alone in a room with a burning candle.

"The holidays can quickly turn from joyful to tragic when a fire occurs," said State Fire Marshal J. William Degnan. "By taking simple precautions, people can avoid potential fire hazards, and make this time of year a healthy and happy one."

Visit www.nfpa.org/holiday for more information and safety tips.

kremelliard@newstote.com

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