When it comes to Christmas trees, lights and candles, using common sense is the key when it comes to preventing fires during the Christmas season, according to Dan Wimmer, fire marshal for the Garden City Fire Department.
When it comes to Christmas trees, particularly real ones, Wimmer said that the key is moisture.
"They need to basically have plenty of water to them. If they get too dry, where the needles start falling off, they need to probably take the tree out of the house, because once the needles start falling off, it's dry enough to start a fire," Wimmer said.
As he said this, he played a video clip from the United States Fire Administration website, www.usfa.fema.gov, of a dry, real Christmas tree being fully engulfed in flames in less than one second.
"That's a dry vs. a high-moisture tree. They're highly flammable in that condition," he said.
Wimmer said that while he doesn't remember any cases of fires being caused by real trees in the 18 years he has worked at the GCFD, the risks are even higher in southwest Kansas.
"Our humidity is so much lower here than it is in eastern Kansas or the mountains, so the trees really dry out fast," he said. "People need to keep them (the basins) full of water, all the time, because it keeps going up the tree. But when they let it (the basin) go dry, the tree starts dying out."
The main reason Christmas tree fires begin in the first place, he said, is shorted out Christmas tree lights.
"It could be a short in the lights, it could be anything, but normally, it's a short in the lights of some type. Lights don't usually get hot enough to start the tree on fire, but if there's a short in the wiring, it can cause a fire," he said. "So people need to inspect their Christmas lights as they're putting them on. If there's any breakage in the insulation, they need to dispose of them and buy new, even on artificial trees."
Candles are another, more prevalent cause of fires.
"Here's a statistic on candle fires. On average, 42 home candle fires are reported every day," Wimmer said, referencing the website. "We've had fires around Christmas (in Garden City), but it's usually candles or something overcooking or something like that."
He said that the main thing to keep in mind with candles is to not leave them unattended, even for brief periods of time.
"Never leave them unattended. If they're going to leave for five minutes, they should put them out," he said. "A lot of those people leave them unattended, they get down burnt to the bottom of the glass, the glass breaks away and it melts and away it goes."
Candles also should be kept away from trees and any other types of highly flammable items, such as curtains.
"With candles, make sure they're sturdy, not able to fall over," he said.
According to the USFA website, candles should be placed at a distance of at least 12 inches from anything that can burn. The website also suggests using battery-operated flameless candles, which can look, smell and feel like real candles.
"This is a really good website for anything. You can go in and search it for all types of stuff," Wimmer said.
The website also offers safety tips about selection, proper care and disposal of Christmas trees, as well as safety tips about holiday lights and decorations.
A Nov. 26 news release from the Kansas Department of Health Safe Kids Kansas offers additional safety tips regarding Christmas trees.
* Never leave a lit Christmas tree or other decorative lighting display unattended. Inspect lights for exposed or frayed wires, loose connections and broken sockets. Do not overload extension cords or outlets, and do not run an electrical cord under a rug.
* Natural Christmas trees always involve some risk of fire. To minimize the risk, get a fresh tree and keep it watered at all times or consider an artificial tree. Do not put the tree within three feet of a fireplace, space heater, radiator or heat vent. LED lights burn cooler than incandescent lights and pose a lower risk of fire.
* Decorate with children in mind. Do not put ornaments that have small parts or metal hooks, or look like food or candy, on the lower branches where small children can reach them. Trim protruding branches at or below a child's eye level, and keep lights out of reach.
* Do not burn Christmas tree branches, treated wood or wrapping paper in a home fireplace.
* Never leave burning candles unattended. Don't put candles on a tree or a natural wreath, or near curtains or drapes. Keep matches and lighters locked out of reach. Battery-operated flameless candles are an alternative that do not have a fire risk.
For additional tips, or to view the video, visit www.usfa.fema.gov/citizens/home_fire_prev/holiday-seasonal/holiday.shtm.