Staying home – and safe – for the holidays

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THE holiday season is a great time to gather at home with loved ones, but it can also be a dangerous time. Each year, fires during the holiday season injure British Columbians and cause thousands of dollars in property damage. The Office of the Fire Commissioner has some basic safety tips so British Columbians can enjoy a fire-safe holiday.

Christmas trees

* If you choose a real tree, pick one with fresh green needles that do not fall off when touched.

* Before placing the tree in the stand, cut two inches from the base of the trunk. Then add water to the tree stand and water every day.

* Keep your tree at least three feet away from heat sources. Never use lit candles to decorate the tree. Consider a fire-resistant artificial tree as an alternative.

* Keep wrappings and decorations at least three feet away from heat sources.

* To see a visual demonstration of the importance of watering your tree, visit: http://youtu.be/fbwkZe133o8

Holiday decorating

* Use non-combustible containers for tea lights and votive candles. Battery-operated candles are an excellent alternative.

* Blow out all candles before leaving the room or going to bed.

* Use only holiday lights that have been tested and labelled by an approved testing laboratory.

* Always turn tree lights off before leaving home or going to sleep. Approved timers can be used to pre-set the on-and-off times.

* Ensure electrical outlets are not overloaded by various sources.

Cooking

* Cooking is the leading cause of the determined home fires and fire-related injuries in British Columbia.

* A stovetop fire can start in a flash. Stay in the kitchen when something is cooking on the stove or in the microwave.

* Keep all combustible items a safe distance away from the stove. This includes tea towels, wooden or plastic spoons and paper towels.

* Keep a pot lid near the stove to smother flames if a fire starts in a pot.

Fireplace safety

* Got kids or grandkids coming for the holidays? Gas fireplaces are popular, but the glass in front of the fireplace can get as hot as 230 to 315 degrees C (450 to 600 degrees F). A fireplace takes more than 45 minutes to cool off after use. Young children and pets can get severe burns when they touch the glass in front of fireplaces.

* Avoid using a gas fireplace when young children are near, or turn the fireplace off well in advance of children visiting.

* Purchase specially designed fireplace screens and guards. Ensure they are secured.

Smoke alarms and fire escape planning

* Working smoke alarms save lives. Research predicts that working smoke alarms could reduce annual fire deaths by as much as 32 per cent and save 76 lives across Canada each year.

* Install working smoke alarms on every level of your home and outside each sleeping area.

* Check and clean smoke alarms regularly and change batteries at least twice a year.

* Develop a fire escape plan and practise it regularly.

* Know two ways out of every room if possible.