Home fires more likely during the holidays

Published 6:00 am Thursday, November 24, 2016

Taking a few steps to prevent house fires this year can make the difference between a tragic or wonderful holiday season.

Steve Swann, operations and facility lead for the American Red Cross of North Mississippi said his organization helps more house fire victims during the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve than the rest of the year.

“It’s our biggest fire season,” he said. “A lot of the fires are due to space heaters or people plugging in too may things into one outlet or extension cord. Ninety-five percent of the fires we respond to are electrical fires.”

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Last year, the American Red Cross of North Mississippi helped an average of four families a day during the holiday season who couldn’t live in their home due to a house fire. The Red Cross chapter serves 30 counties in north Mississippi including Lafayette County.

Housed in Oxford for more than 15 years, the local chapter was closed in the spring when the rent was raised for the office on West Oxford Loop. A small, satellite office was opened in Sardis.

Swann said anyone who is a victim of a house fire should call the Red Cross Dispatch Center at 855-891-7325.

“They will send a volunteer out to assist that person or family,” Swann said. “We will help after any natural disaster and most accidental disasters, such as a truck carrying chlorine and people needing to evacuate.”

Paying close attention to food on the stove, keeping children out of the kitchen and keeping a fire extinguisher close by are the best things to do to prevent a cooking fire.

Cooking fires often can get up into cabinets and behind walls where a homeowner may not even know there’s a fire until it’s too late.

Lafayette County Fire Coordinator Wes Anderson said most cooking-related fires and injuries are generally caused when frying turkeys.

The National Fire Protection Agency publicly discourages the use of outdoor gas-fueled turkey fryers that immerse the turkey in hot oil, claiming the fryers can lead to devastating burns, other injuries and the destruction of property.

As the temperatures start to dip, many residents use space heaters to keep their homes warm. Anderson suggests homeowners using space heaters to check to make sure the extension cord can handle the space heater’s output.

“People sometimes plug them into an extension cord that can’t handle the load and then put the cord under a rug,” Anderson said. “Space heaters can also tip over and many don’t have an automatic off switch when that happens.”

Space heaters should be kept at least 3 feet away from anything that could overheat and catch on fire.

“Wall heaters generally don’t have an off button either,” Anderson said. “During the summer, couches and other things get pushed in front of them and when the temperature drops, they turn on automatically. Make sure there’s nothing in front of the wall heater or radiators now that cooler weather has arrived.”

Live Christmas trees should be kept moist and water levels in the stand should be checked often, Anderson said.

“Christmas lights should also be plugged into an appropriate extension cord,” he said.

Check lights for tears before putting them on your tree, Anderson added.