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Our view: Cool it when it comes to fire during the holidays

Although we're entrenched in winter, things tend to heat up throughout Minnesota between Christmas and New Year's Day - and not in a good way. During that week, more fires occur in Minnesota homes than at any other time of year, according to Jerr...

Although we're entrenched in winter, things tend to heat up throughout Minnesota between Christmas and New Year's Day - and not in a good way.

During that week, more fires occur in Minnesota homes than at any other time of year, according to Jerry Rosendahl, Minnesota State fire marshal. Six Minnesotans died in that time last year in residential fires.

Cooking, heating and open flames are the three main causes - combined with the distraction that holiday celebrations can bring.

Rosendahl offers the following tips to prevent accidental fires while cooking, using the fireplace and burning candles:

In the kitchen: Never leave cooking food unattended. According to Rosendahl, firefighters hear the same lament from fire victims, "I just stepped away for a moment." Keep flammable items like pot holders away from cooking surfaces and turn pot handles inward. A skillet lid is good to keep nearby as a grease fire can be smothered with it in a pinch.

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At the fireplace: Clear the area of toys, gifts, stockings and décor before using the fireplace. Make sure your chimney is checked and cleaned and although tempting, never burn wrapping paper, Rosendahl said. It can ignite creosote in the chimney and start an uncontrollable fire.

Then there are candles, which undoubtedly provide lovely, flickering light on dark, winter nights. That said, holiday chaos and candles don't necessarily mix. If you must burn candles, place them on sturdy, uncluttered surfaces where children cannot reach them and keep them away from curtains, Christmas trees, ribbon and other flammable materials. Never leave them burning unattended and before bed, check to make sure they are extinguished. And of course, keep the matches and lighters away from children as well.

Rosendahl encourages Minnesota residents to clip these tips, post them so family members will see them and most importantly - spread the word.

"Do anything it takes to raise awareness among your family and friends," he said. "Every shared safety tip, every careful gesture may be one residential fire prevented."

It's one kind of heat nobody - even in the chilly state of Minnesota - wants this time of year.

Lisa Baumann

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