It was about 2 a.m. on Christmas Day 2017 when the Mt. Pleasant Fire Department was called to reports of a house fire that was spreading quickly.
On arrival, fire chief Drew Schumacher recalls the family was out of the house, but the home was becoming fully engulfed. Try as they did, the fire department was not able to save the house from being consumed in the flames. Schumacher reports a year later the family has recently moved into a new house. While there was no loss of life, he is sorry the family had to spend Christmas in that way.
“It’s always heartbreaking when it is a family and it’s the holidays,” he said.
During many years the coming of the Christmas season, also means the coming of a busy time for area fire departments. With plenty of cooking, Christmas trees, candles, and the goal to keep warm, there is a greater risk of fire starting and getting out of control. Washington Fire Chief Tom Wide said statistically the holiday season is the season when a fire happening is more likely. He said thing that can cause a fire are in greater use.
Schumacher said that one in four Christmas tree fires are electrical in nature. He said many people don’t take the time to inspect their lights before stringing them from the branches or use a DFCI outlet. He also stressed the importance of keeping a tree watered. He also reminded people to be careful when placing a Christmas tree to make sure that it is not near a fireplace.
“A spark can light up a Christmas tree in less than 30 seconds,” he said. “It burns everything in that 30 seconds.”
Washington Fire Chief Tom Wide also stressed the importance of care when setting up the family tree.
“The No. 1 thing this time of year is the fresh cut Christmas trees,” Wide said. “It is not the issue it used to be with the artificial trees, but there are still a lot of people who like real trees. The main thing on that is keep them well hydrated. As soon as Christmas is over, take them down. Don’t forget to check the lights you are putting on and make sure they are in good working order.”
Candles are another fire risk during the holiday season, Schumaker said. He recommends for decorations people should try LED candles, which look like candles but don’t give off heat.
Cooking holiday meals is also an area where fire can start. Schumacher stressed the importance of attending the cooking. While it may be easy to walk away from an item on the stove to visit with guests, he said this should be avoided. Turkey deep fryers were another area Schumacher warned in which safety was a must.
“People want to do those in their garages,” he said. “You shouldn’t do those within 10 feet of your garage. You should do it outside on a nice level surface.”
Wide advises to check burners to make sure they are not left on after cooking is done. He also said a fire extinguisher should be standard in every kitchen
Schumacher said one area where problems have arisen is people setting up space heaters away from electrical outlets with the use of an extension cord. He said many times the cord is not heavy enough and the heater pulls so much power the cord heats up and shorts out. He also said extension cords need to be exposed rather than placed under a rug or taped over. He said if the cord does heat up, the heat needs an area to escape to.
“Space heaters are a real issue,” Wide said. “There are new ones with safety features in them, but the most common issue is overloading the circuit.”
He also said power strips are not recommended and a heater should be plugged right into the outlet. He also said when people are leaving a room with a space heater for any amount of time, the heater should be turned off.