The American Red Cross urges residents to take extra precautions with heating, cooking and decorating around the holidays. As the Hill Country continues to experience cold weather, the Red Cross responds to an increasing number of home fires during the winter months.
“Cooking is the leading cause of home fires, and as people are entertaining, heating their homes and stringing lights this holiday season, we’re urging that they take safety measures to ensure that their homes and loved ones are safe from the threat of fire,” said Bristel Bowen, spokesperson for the American Red Cross of Central Texas.
Christmas Day, Christmas Eve and Thanksgiving are the top three days for cooking fires, according to the National Fire Prevention Association. Nationally, the Red Cross responds to a disaster on average every eight minutes, and the vast majority of them are home fires.
The Red Cross has some simple steps everyone can follow to prevent home fires around the holidays:
Test your smoke alarms.
Check food regularly while cooking and remain in the home while cooking. Use a timer as a reminder that the stove or oven is on.
Enforce a “kid-free zone” in the cooking area and make children stay at least three feet away from the stove.
Keep anything that can catch fire away from the stove, oven or any appliance in the kitchen that generates heat.
Clean cooking surfaces on a regular basis to prevent grease buildup.
Purchase a fire extinguisher to keep in the kitchen. Contact the local fire department to receive training on the proper use of extinguishers.
Choose decorations that are flame resistant or flame retardant.
Keep children, pets and decorations away from lit candles.
Keep matches and lighters up high in a locked cabinet.
Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. Connect no more than three strands of mini light sets and a maximum of 50 bulbs for screw-in bulbs. Read manufacturer’s instructions for the number of LED strands to connect. Some strings of lights are only for indoor or outdoor use, but not both.
Use clips, not nails, to hang lights so the cords do not get damaged.
Keep decorations away from windows and doors.
Keep all potential sources of fuel like paper, clothing, bedding, curtains or rugs at least three feet away from space heaters, stoves, or fireplaces.
Portable heaters and fireplaces should never be left unattended. Turn off space heaters and make sure any embers in the fireplace are extinguished before going to bed or leaving home.
If you must use a space heater, place it on a level, hard and nonflammable surface (such as ceramic tile floor), not on rugs or carpets or near bedding or drapes. Keep children and pets away from space heaters.
When buying a space heater, look for models that shut off automatically if the heater falls over as another safety measure.
Never use a cooking range or oven to heat your home.
Keep fire in your fireplace by using a glass or metal fire screen large enough to catch sparks and rolling logs.
Have wood and coal stoves, fireplaces, chimneys, and furnaces professionally inspected and cleaned once a year.
People should also download the free American Red Cross First Aid app, which provides instant access to information on handling the most common first aid emergencies. The apps can be downloaded from the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store for Android by searching for American Red Cross or by going to redcross.org/mobileapps.
People can test their knowledge on how to prevent home fires by taking the Fire Safety Quiz, and can learn more about fire prevention by visitingredcross.org.