ST. PAUL — Just when the holiday rush subsides and we begin to relax, the most fire-prone week of the year arrives with multiple threats. Last winter between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day, 172 structure fires in Minnesota laid waste nearly $3 million in property and took two lives.
Cooking, open flames and heating account for 70 percent of Minnesota structure fires year-round. They’re the very same things that help to create a warm, holiday atmosphere.
“The number of fires varies from year-to-year, but the causes do not,” says State Fire Marshal Jerry Rosendahl. “The challenges remain: unattended stovetops, creosote-clogged chimneys, improper use of candles and space heaters, and people who burn wrapping paper in the fireplace, despite warnings.”
Holiday fire prevention, Rosendahl says, must begin with the belief that a fire actually can happen in your home. “It’s not something that happens to ‘other’ people. It’s something that usually happens to careless people. Almost all holiday residential fires could be prevented if people raised their awareness of fire risks and lowered their tolerance for risky situations in their homes.”
Rosendahl offers the following list of facts and tips to keep your home safe this holiday season:
- Never leave a hot stovetop or oven unattended. Grease fires start in seconds.
- Smother a stovetop grease fire with a pan lid (no oxygen, no fire) and turn off the burner. Never use water; it spreads the fire. Oven fires are rare, but can usually be handled by closing the oven door and turning off the oven.
- Leave three feet between a lit candle and anything that can burn. Make sure it’s on a solid base, in a place where children can’t reach it.
- Consider switching to battery-operated candles. They’re priced to compete with their wax counterparts, and they even come scented. The safety and peace-of-mind will be worth it.
- At the fireplace, remember that stockings are combustible; you need three feet between them and any heat source.
- Clear fireplace hearths and keep fireplace doors or screens closed to prevent sparks from escaping.
- Have chimneys inspected annually, especially if wood is burned regularly. Creosote build-up creates the possibility of a chimney fire.
- Never, ever burn gift wrap in a fireplace; it burns too fast and hot to be controlled.
- Keep space heaters at least three feet from walls, furniture, drapes and other combustible material.
- Inspect heaters before use ; make sure safety shields are in place and electrical components intact.
- Don’t place a space heater in a room with unsupervised children; that new stuffed animal or a cardboard box may be left too close to the heat source.
- Turn electric heaters off before leaving the house or retiring for the night.
Rosendahl adds that fire safety begins with purchasing, installing, and maintaining smoke alarms in the home. There should be one in the hallway outside sleeping rooms, and one on each level of the home. In addition, in new construction, there must be one within each sleeping room. Detailed fire code information
may be found on the State Fire Marshal website. Check alarm batteries monthly, change them annually, and never remove them for another use.
“When you purchase batteries for your battery-operated gifts, remember to pick up some extras for your smoke alarms,” Rosendahl says. “Smoke alarms save lives, but they need to be maintained operating in case the unthinkable should happen.” For more information, visit the State Fire Marshal website at www.fire.state.mn.us
and search “holiday fire safety.”
About the Minnesota Department Public Safety
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) comprises 11 divisions where 2,100 employees operate programs in the areas of law enforcement, crime victim assistance, traffic safety, alcohol and gambling, emergency communications, fire safety, pipeline safety, driver licensing, vehicle registration and emergency management. DPS activity is anchored by three core principles: education, enforcement and prevention.
About the State Fire Marshal Division
The mission of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety State Fire Marshal Division is to protect lives and property by fostering a fire-safe environment through fire/arson investigation, code development and enforcement, regulation, data collection and public education. Data collected by the State Fire Marshal Division from fire departments statewide is analyzed and used to determine the best methods of public education and enforcement to improve fire safety in our state.
- One structure fire was reported in Minnesota every 1.3 hours (Rural – every 3.0 hours; Metro – every 2.4 hours
- 5,039 of a total 6,530 structure fires in Minnesota occurred in residential property, accounting for 62 percent of total financial loss.
- 67 fires were extinguished by automatic sprinkler systems, minimizing loss and potentially saving lives; 23 of them took place in residential or multifamily-dwelling buildings.