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Galt and Lodi firefighters warn of holiday dangers

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Posted: Thursday, December 23, 2010 12:00 am | Updated: 6:33 am, Thu Dec 23, 2010.

The holidays are a time of giving and family gatherings. But they can also be a time of serious fire danger.

Members of the fire community know that there is always a spike in fire accidents during the winter months of December, January and February, and that spike can peak during the holidays.

In Galt on Saturday, fire officials believe an extension cord leading from a home to an outdoor hot tub caused a fire that destroyed the house’s roof. Battalion Chief Rick Holmes, with Cosumnes Community Services District Fire Department, said the fire climbed up an outside wall and got to the roof. Although no one was injured, Holmes said the house is now uninhabitable and the residents will no longer have their home for Christmas.

According to State Farm Insurance, since 2005 there have been more fire and smoke claims in December than any other month. During that same time period, California was ranked No. 4 in the nation in number of fire and smoke-related claims.

A lot of those fires end up being related to the holidays. For example, a Christmas tree may look pretty, but it can act like a giant Duraflame Log under the right circumstances.

“They’re extremely flammable once they dry,” said Lodi Fire Chief Kevin Donnelly. “They light up like torches.”

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has circulated an online video of a simulation it conducted of a tree catching fire inside a home. The tree is completely ablaze faster than you can say “Clark Griswold,” and within 35 seconds the fire has engulfed a living room in flames and black smoke.

“There’s not a lot of Christmas tree fires, but unfortunately they can be very severe,” Donnelly said.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, an average of 260 home fires have started with Christmas trees every year since 2004.

Another fire starter is the kitchen: Cooking-related fires are an increased danger during the holidays, Donnelly said. He’s heard of it all, from turkey deep fryers catching a porch on fire to people falling asleep with food on the stove top. Deep-fried turkey incidents have become more prevalent over the years, according to Cosumnes CSD Fire Marshall George Apple, and although they don’t happen regularly, they can cause serious damage.

“(The fires) are usually pretty significant because there’s a lot of heat that’s produced by them, and it’s a fairly difficult fire to control,” Apple said.

State Farm reported 36 cooking-related fire claims on Christmas Day of last year alone. Apple said many cooking related incidents could be avoided if people simply remain mindful of what they’re doing.

“Every once in a while you’ll see a failure in the component ... but the vast majority of cooking fires are the result of user error,” he said. “More often than not it’s because someone wasn’t paying attention.”

Another danger during the winter months are chimneys, which can be very hazardous if not cleaned and maintained properly. Donnelly cautioned that only wood should be put into the fireplace, because other items that aren’t meant to be consumed by flames could cause an accident. So don’t put the ugly sweater your aunt gave you for Christmas in there — that’s what gift receipts are for.

Candles can also pose a serious risk, especially if you forget to put them out when you leave the house. Donnelly recommends switching battery-operated candles, which he said are much safer than traditional wick candles.

“Not be a bah humbug, because I love candles too, but I actually have (battery-operated candles) in my house and they look wonderful,” he said.

Contact reporter Fernando Gallo at fernando@lodinews.com.


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