Avoid holiday horror stories
By Sarah Wojcik
December 4, 2013
SHELBY TOWNSHIP — ’Tis the season for holiday cheer, decorative lights and big meals with loved ones, but don’t let avoidable catastrophes dampen your spirits.
Cooking is the leading cause of home fires, and the top three days for cooking fires are Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
“Most home fires happen when cooking is left unattended,” said Lorraine Carli, an NFPA public affairs official. “Be sure to stay in the kitchen if you are frying, grilling or broiling food. If you are simmering, baking, roasting or broiling food, remain in the home.”
ServPro Industries Inc., a restoration service, reminds people to keep flammable items — potholders, packaging, wrapping, wooden utensils, loose clothing — away from the stovetop. Another tip they recommend: Don’t let lack of sleep or alcohol consumption affect your ability to concentrate on preparing the meal.
In case of a grease fire, Shelby Township Fire Department Chief Jim Swinkowski cautioned not to use water to put it out, as that displaces hot or flaming oil; instead, try to place a lid on top of it. He said to not remove the lid and call the Fire Department immediately.
In case of an oven fire, Swinkowski said to leave the oven door shut and turn off the oven.
“The oven will contain the fire, and it will eventually go out,” he said. “A lot of black smoke will come out of the vent, but the problem happens when you open the door and fresh air gets in and the fire gets bigger.”
For the brave souls who attempt to deep fry a turkey, Swinkowski said to use a fryer in a well-ventilated area and follow the manufacturer’s recommendation for measuring the oil.
“Have an extinguisher handy,” he said. “If you don’t have one, go buy one.”
Besides cooking, holiday fires also commonly result from candles or decorative lights igniting decorations or Christmas trees. ServPro recommends making sure decorations are a safe distance away from heat sources like radiators, portable heaters, fireplaces and candles.
Flameless candles are a safer alternative, but if you use traditional candles, burn them in sturdy candleholders away from drapes and flammable materials. Never leave them unattended, and never allow them to burn down to less than 1 inch.
Swinkowski added that you should not overload your outlets with Christmas light strands. He recommended you check wiring on lights for breaks and wear, replace worn strands, do not exceed manufacturers’ guidelines for connecting multiple strands of lights and do not leave lights plugged in when you are away from home or asleep.
The Shelby Township Fire Department’s website highly suggests keeping live trees watered and away from heat vents so that they will not become a fire hazard.
When choosing a tree, needles on fresh trees should be green and not break easily. The trunk should also be sticky to the touch. Bouncing the tree on the ground can help identify old trees — if many needles fall off, the tree was cut too long ago and probably has dried out.
The Fire Department recommends not putting a tree up too early or leaving it up for longer than two weeks. After the holidays, do not burn your tree. The best way to dispose of it is to take it to a recycling center or have it hauled away by a community pickup service.
Shelby Township Fire Marshal Edward Vojtush said the volume of house fires increases during the fall and winter with the use of furnaces, space heaters, central heating and dryers.
Swinkowski said it is important to have furnaces and chimneys cleaned and inspected by a professional annually. The NFPA also recommends testing smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, allowing a space of 3 feet around portable space heaters and clearing lint off dryer screens.
If you are joining the 43.4 million Americans who are traveling 50 miles or more for the holidays, as forecasted by AAA, the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America recommends eight steps to prepare your home.
Don’t leave appliances on as you depart, especially the dishwasher; turn off the water to your hoses; set alarms to prevent burglaries; close and lock doors and windows; set timers for lights to make a home look lived in; don’t post plans on social media; wrap your outside pipes with foam, towels or duct tape and keep your important papers secure.
“It only takes a single distracted or careless action to turn a family get-together into a tragedy,” said Rick Isaacson, executive vice president of ServPro Industries, Inc.
About the author
Staff Writer Sarah Wojcik covers Shelby Township and Utica for the Shelby-Utica News. Sarah has worked for C & G Newspapers since 2013 and attended Oakland University. She won a first place 2013 Excellence in Journalism award for open government reporting and a second place 2014 Excellence in Journalism award for a series of explanatory stories from the Detroit chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
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