Fire officials offer holiday safety tips

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Just because the mercury has dropped and precipitation is abundant, fire officials warn us to remain vigilant about fire safety this winter season.

Gwinnett fire spokesman Capt. Thomas Rutledge said that while the winter holidays are a time for family and friend get-togethers, it's also a time of increased fire risk.

"Holiday and festive decorations increase the amount of fire load inside the home," Rutledge said. "The month of December is peak time of the year for residential fires involving candles and holiday decorations."

Annually, Rutledge said, firefighters nationwide respond to 250 decoration-related fires responsible for 14 civilian deaths, 26 injuries and nearly $14 million in property damage.

If using a live Christmas tree, officials recommend one that is fresh and green in color. A fresh tree should have needles that bend but not easily break and have a sticky, sappy trunk.

To test the tree, bounce the trunk on the ground. If a considerable amount of needles fall off, Rutledge said, the tree has likely dried to the point of being a fire hazard.

Once inside the home, a tree should not be placed near open heat sources or vents and shouldn't block exits. Residents should also remember to keep plenty of water in the tree stand at all times.

When disposing of a live tree, it should be taken out -- preferably to a recycling center -- not put in the fireplace.

Artificial trees, ornaments and other decorations should be made of flame-retardant material and decorators should be careful not to overload electrical outlets.

Rutledge also offered the following tips:

* Keep lit candles away from decorations and other flammable objects;

* Remember to turn off all light strands and blow out all candles before leaving the house or going to bed;

* If light strands have worn wires, replace them;

* Test smoke alarms and advise guests about your fire escape plan;

* Stay in the kitchen when cooking on the stove top; and

* Ask smokers to smoke outside.

A fatal apartment fire Tuesday that claimed the life of a 4-year-old boy is a tragic testament, Rutledge said, to the importance of practicing fire safety. It brings the fire death toll in Gwinnett this year to eight.

"Now is the time to take action and to practice proper fire safety measures in our home," Rutledge said.

For more fire safety information, call the Gwinnett County Fire Department Public Education Section at 678-518-4850.