The Christmas season is a festive time filled with family, friends and celebration. Area fire officials want to keep it that way and are urging peninsula residents to consider fire safety along with their holiday plans.
From Christmas tree care to making sure those decorative outdoor lights are properly maintained, area fire marshals say a few precautions can ensure a happy time will not turn tragic.
"This time of the year folks are planning and decorating and don't always think about fire safety," said Kenai Fire Marshal James Baisden. "If we go to a structure fire this time of year it is especially tough -- it's really hard on the families."
Baisden said one of the biggest fire hazards that can be introduced into a home this time of year is a Christmas tree allowed to dry out. He said keeping the tree watered is essential, especially when colder temperatures tend to take much of the moisture out of the air.
"When they stop absorbing water, it's time for them to go," Baisden said. "Most people keep their trees up from just after Thanksgiving into January, and that's almost too long. It's bound to dry out."
The key to choosing a Christmas tree is freshness, said Central Emergency Services Fire Marshal Gary Hale, who added that the higher the moisture content, the better.
"Avoid those with brittle needles that readily fall from the tree," Hale said, "and keep the tree outside until you are ready to decorate it."
Jim Decker, a North Kenai resident selling Christmas trees in the Three Bears parking lot in Kenai, said a newly purchased tree should have at least two inches cut off the trunk and be placed in water within two hours.
"Trees will probably drink five gallons of water in the first three to five days," said Decker, who is selling balsam fir and Scottish pine trees shipped up from Wisconsin in refrigerated vans. "The trees will last a long time if you keep them watered."
Both Baisden and Hale urged residents to use common sense when setting up a tree in the home.
"Select a place where the tree does not block a door or hallway," Hale said, "and is well away from heating sources such as fireplaces, stoves and space heaters."
Once the tree is up, inspect the lights for broken or cracked sockets and frayed wires, and replace them if necessary, Hale said.
"Don't use indoor lights outdoors or vice-versa," Hale said. "And when you leave home or go to bed, be sure to turn off all the holiday lights."
Baisden added that if extension cords are used, especially for outdoor lights, make sure cords are not pinched by windows or doors.
"A lot of the calls we get involve electrical shorts in the cords because they were cut by a door being opened and closed a lot," Baisden said. "People should try to keep the cords away from points of friction."
Both men said to refrain from throwing packaging material, wrapping paper and ribbons into the fireplace to cut down on the buildup of creosote, a primary cause of chimney fires.
"Always use a fireplace screen," Hale said, "and be sure to throw away those wrappings immediately."
And what's the perfect Christmas gift?
"A smoke or carbon monoxide detector, of course," Baisden said. "Or maybe a new fire extinguisher."
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