Holidays, winter post fire danger

Officials with the Big Spring Fire Department are knocking on wood, and with good reason.The seasonal upswing in the number of house fires the city of Big Spring and outlying areas normally see thanks to the holiday and colder weather has yet to arrive, according to Fire Marshal Carl Condray, but the good luck doesn't usually last.“Normally, when the weather turns cold we see a big increase in the number of structure fires, caused mainly by people looking for ways to stay warm,” said Condray. “However, we haven't seen that increase yet, and here we are going into December. It's a surprise, and certainly a good surprise, but I'd say the chances of it lasting are pretty slim.”Condray said the convergence of three times of year — colder temperatures, the Thanksgiving holiday and decorating for Christmas — make for a dangerous situation.“We really haven't had much cold weather, so there are still plenty of people who haven't used their heating systems or space heaters,” Condray said. “When you add that to all of the decorating for the holiday, it can cause a pretty serious uptick in the number of fires. The most important thing we can do leading into this time of year is educate people and urge them to be very cautious.”In addition to residents firing up their heating systems and space heaters for the first time this season, Condray said residents' choices in holiday decorations can play a vital role in keeping things safe and fun.“There are a lot of ways things can go wrong when you're decorating for the holiday, but there are steps you can take to reduce the risk to yourself and your loved ones,” said Condray. “One of the best we've seen so far this year is the use of the newer LED Christmas lights. They are cool burning and only use a fraction of the electricity.“In fact, you could decorate your whole house in LED lights, and the amount of electricity you'll use this holiday season will still be less than with just one string of regular incandescent bulbs.”Regardless of what type of holiday lights you choose, Condray said there are some hard-fast rules residents should go by when they get ready to put them up.“Only use indoor lights indoors and outdoor lights outdoors. And always look for the Underwriters Laboratory (UL) label,” Condray advised. “Check lights for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires or loose connections. You should check them by setting them on a non-flammable surface and leaving them plugged in for 10 to 15 minutes to make sure they don’t melt or smoke. Turn off all the lights on trees and decorations when you go to bed or leave the house.“When you’re hanging the lights, be sure to keep them away from flammable materials such as curtains, and make sure the cords aren’t near any sources of water. Never connect more than three sets of light to an extension cord, and to prevent overheating, pinching and fraying cords, avoid running lights under rugs or behind furniture.”Condray said another decoration many families will want to pay close attention to is their Christmas tree, as the holiday centerpiece can quickly turn into an instrument of woe if not handled properly.“Try to select a fresh tree by looking for one that is green. The needles of pines and spruces should bend and not break and should be hard to pull off the branches,” said Condray. “On fir species, a needle pulled from a fresh tree will snap when bent, much like a fresh carrot. Also, look for a trunk sticky with sap.“Cut off about two inches of the trunk and put the tree in a sturdy, water-holding stand. Keep the stand filled with water so the tree does not dry out quickly. Stand your tree away from fireplaces, radiators and other heat sources. Make sure the tree does not block foot traffic or doorways. If you use an artificial tree, choose one that tested and labeled as fire resistant. Artificial trees with built-in electrical systems should also have the UL label.”