December 10, 2007
According to the Ketchikan Fire Department, cooking and heating-related incidents are the leading cause of residential fires in Alaska, accounting for almost 60% of the state's total reported structure fires. With the holidays approaching, warm, cozy homes and holiday feasts play a major role in our preparations for family gatherings. It also increases the risks for fire. These fires can be prevented and losses reduced by simply following a few simple safety precautions.
Pay particular attention while cooking, especially when using oils and grease. Cooking appliances should be kept clean of grease build-up, which can easily ignite. Applying a lid to a small grease fire and turning off the burner is usually the most effective and safest method of controlling it. Never carry a pan that's on fire as it may ignite clothes, or spill and spread the fire or cause severe burns. If the fire is inside your oven, turn off the heat and leave the door closed to cut off the fire's air supply. Young children should be kept away from cooking appliances to prevent any mishaps. It's always a good idea to use the back burners when possible and keep panhandles turned to the inside so they won't be pulled or knocked over. Check stoves and other appliances before going to bed or leaving your home to make sure that the units are left in the "off" position.
Many people choose to use natural cut trees to decorate their homes. Beautiful decorations are traditional in the lives of Alaskans, but it is important to know that these decorations lead to added fire risks if safety precautions are not followed. When decorating for the holidays, guard against blocking exit doors with Christmas trees or decorations that could interfere with being able to escape in the event of a fire. Natural cut trees should be secured in a sturdy tree-stand to prevent falling or being knocked over. Only use "cool lamp" holiday lights for inside decorations that have been approved by a nationally recognized testing laboratory. Before stringing lights, check for loose connections, broken or cracked sockets, frayed wires or places where bare wire is exposed. Damaged sets of lights should be discarded. Always remember to turn off decorative lights when you leave your home or retire for the evening. Christmas trees should be freshly cut and placed in water the entire time the tree is inside your home. Dispose of your tree when the needles begin to brown or fall in large quantities. This is a sign that the tree is dangerously dry.
"Candles are a growing cause of home fires, especially during the holiday season," warns Dave Tyler, Alaska State Fire Marshal. Open flames can easily ignite nearby materials, spreading fire throughout your home in a matter of minutes. Fire is fast - that's why every home should have a working smoke alarm and a planned and practiced exit plan.
If you use candles, pay close attention to a few simple rules:
Working smoke alarms should be a priority at any time of year. This is a great time to test your alarms to make sure they are working. With the use of modern technology, many communities in the United States are taking safety a step further by installing residential sprinkler systems. These systems quickly control the fire causing little or no damage, preventing the loss of life and property.
If your home or business has heating or cooking equipment that uses any carbon based fuel like wood or fuel oil, make sure you have a working Carbon Monoxide detector. Carbon Monoxide is the "silent killer." It is a colorless, odorless gas that is a bi-product of combustion and can kill quickly. Make sure your heating or cooking equipment is well maintained and properly vented and never cook indoors with charcoals, wood, or other unvented cooking equipment or barbeques.
Another alarming trend in Alaska is fires caused by children playing with matches and lighters. In the United States, in 2006 fires caused by children playing with matches and lighters caused over $40,000,000.00 in damage and in Alaska fires started by children caused one fatality in 2006. So far in 2007, there have been four fire fatalities in Alaska alone caused by children playing with matches and lighters. The Ketchikan Fire Department would like to remind adults that " matches and lighters are tools, not toys" and that matches and lighters should be kept out of children's reach.
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