KATY MAGAZINE NEWS
November 30, 2018
by Natalie Cook Clark and Ariana Pezeshki
It is estimated about 1,170 home fires per year begin with decorations. "These fires cause an annual average of 8 deaths, 54 injuries, and $19.1 million in property damage." According to The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI). Holiday light displays and decorations also bring fire risk for Katy Families, warranting the concern of Katy fire authorities.
The ESFI also states, in addition to the alarming holiday fire statistics that, "150 home fires per year begin with holiday lights and other decorative lighting, causing another 8 deaths, 16 injuries, and $8.9 million in property damage each year."
The use of real Christmas trees in your home, creates more fire risk. ESFI says, Christmas trees each year result in "12 deaths, 24 injuries and $16.4 million in property damage." It is imperative to make sure the tree is not blocking an exit. Add water to the tree stand and be sure to add water daily. Never use lit candles around the tree. Always turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving home or going to bed. This applies to both real and artificial trees.
Katy's Leading Fire Cause
Not all fire dangers this time of year are related to holiday decorations. "In our district we have seen a mixture of causes that lead to a fire," says Jason Tharp, Lieutenant of Community Risk Reduction Harris County ESD No. 48 Fire Department. "The leading cause would be heating/furnace fires." Tharp urges residents to have their heaters and/or furnaces inspected and cleaned annually. "On many of the Home Safety Surveys I conduct I ask the resident when the last time their system has been serviced and cleared by a HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) technician. On average 75% of the residents have not received any service unless there was an existing issue," says Tharp.
Tharp also finds that many residents are unaware of the need to clean and inspect their fireplaces. "We understand that this is Texas and the use may be very minimal, however it is important to note that birds and other small animals make nests near the top of the chimney," says Tharp. These animals can compromise insulation leaving it vulnerable to embers traveling up the chimney to the compromised area leading to a fire. Birds and small animals that nest can cause blockage and poor ventilation causing carbon monoxide seepage within the home."
Winter Fire Safety Tips
Clear the area around the fire place.
Use a screen around the front of the fire place.
Never burn trash, cardboard, or debris.
Never leave a fire unattended.
Burn logs at the back of the fire place or grate.
"Our district has responded to other fires as a result of holiday decorating," says Tharp. It's so easy to get caught up in the excitement of the season especially with social media and reality TV shows like "The Great Christmas Light Fight" encouraging us to go bigger and brighter.
There are steps you can take to be able to show off your holiday spirit and minimize your risk of fire.
Tips to Decorating Safely
Choose decorations that are flame resistant or flame retardant.
Keep lit candles away from decorations and other things that can burn.
Some lights are only for indoor or outdoor use, but not both.
Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections.
Read manufacturer’s instructions for number of light strands to connect.
Use clips, not nails, to hang lights so the cords do not get damaged.
Keep decorations away from windows and doors.
Before placing the tree in the stand, cut 2” from the base of the trunk.
Make sure the tree is at least three feet away from any heat source, like fireplaces, radiators, candles, heat vents or lights.
Katy Residents' Decorations
The Franklin family who lives in Katy and annually decorates their home in holiday lights, decor and, two Christmas trees say they check their lights every year for safety. "They are only turned on when we're home and are on a remote control outlet so one button turns it on and off," says Jenifer Franklin.
Have a Plan and Review with Company
While it's always important to have a family plan in the event of a fire that plan can change during the holidays and involve more people. "Whenever I think about Christmas time and fires I remember my first fatality fire as a young volunteer in 2010," recalls Simon VanDyk, Lieutenant - Public Information Officer Harris County Emergency Services District 48 Fire/EMS. " Three women lost their lives the day after Christmas." Two of those women were visiting from out of town and they didn't know the plan when disaster struck. "Make sure that you review your exit plan and meeting place with any holiday visitors that may be staying with you this season," says VanDyk.
Pets and Fire Risk
The American Red Cross says, "1,000 home fires each year are accidentally started by the homeowners' pets." It's important to take them into consideration when planning holiday light displays. Pets create fire hazards with the risk of knocking down lights, decor and tripping live wires. The Franklin's check their home for safety around their dog, Mr.Banks. "We have to put foil around the bottom and he has been so good with it," explains Jenifer. "This helps to keep Mr. Banks out of the tree."
The Franklins' take steps to make sure both their trees are fire safe including making sure all is safe with their dog, Mr. Banks.
If your are looking to take your family to see some truly spectacular houses see our Biggest Christmas light displays in Katy and nearby story.