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Deck the halls with care this holiday season

MSU Extension Service

RAYMOND, Miss. -- Decorated homes and busy kitchens mark the holiday season for many families, but this time of year also brings an increased number of safety hazards.

Decor and cooking fires increase during the holidays, causing numerous deaths and injuries, as well as millions of dollars in property damage. Between 2009 and 2013, U.S. fire departments responded to about 1,070 home fires a year started by holiday decorations, including Christmas trees, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

“Families can greatly reduce the risk of fire by following some simple steps,” said David Buys, health specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. “Be sure to place decorations a safe distance from heat sources, and use candles responsibly.”

Candles started more than half of home decoration fires during December, according to the association’s statistics. The leading days for candle fires are Christmas, New Year’s and Christmas Eve.

To reduce the risk of candle fires, Buys made several suggestions:

  • Place candles a safe distance away from other decorations, drapery and Christmas trees.
  • Extinguish candles when leaving the room or going to bed.
  • Keep burning candles out of the reach of children and pets.
  • Use battery-operated candles.

Electrical decorations can also pose fire hazards. Inspect all electrical decorations, including strand lights, before use.

“Most people use their strand lights for several years without thinking to check them to make sure they are still safe,” Buys said. “Always inspect each strand to make sure there are no cracks or frays in the wires or broken plugs.”

Buys suggested other safety precautions when using electrical decorations. Turn off all indoor and outdoor electrical decorations before leaving the house or going to bed. Use only electrical decorations and cords tested and certified by Underwriters Laboratory. The company’s UL Certification Mark will appear on accepted products. Always follow the manufacturer’s use and care instructions. Never overload electrical outlets, and plug outdoor decorations into ground fault interrupter outlets.

More home cooking fires happen on Thanksgiving Day than any other day of the year. Christmas Day and Christmas Eve rank second and third, respectively, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Natasha Haynes, MSU Extension agent in Rankin County and host of The Food Factor, said most of these fires are preventable.

“The number one rule when cooking is to stay in the kitchen and pay attention to the stove,” Haynes said. “This includes baking and broiling.”

Make sure any items that could catch fire, including pot holders and cookbooks, are not left too close to the stove. Keep stoves and ovens clean of food debris. Check to see that appliances are turned off before going to bed.

Haynes recommends keeping a fire extinguisher in the kitchen at all times.

“You never put water on a grease fire,” she said. “This will cause it to spread. Have a fire extinguisher on hand that is rated for all types of fire, and know how to use it. Fire extinguishers do expire, so be sure to replace them regularly.”

Turkey fryers are popular appliances that many people use during the holidays. However, they can be very dangerous. Haynes said cooks who want to fry turkeys, should always use cookers outside on a flat surface in a well-lit, well-ventilated area away from trees, shrubbery and buildings.

“Never leave the cooker unattended, and monitor the temperature of the oil with a cooking thermometer during the entire process,” Haynes said. “The correct amount of oil should be heated to 350 degrees, and then the flame should be turned off while you lower the thawed turkey into the oil. Don’t just dunk it into the oil. To avoid the oil bubbling over, gradually lower the turkey into the hot oil, pull it back out, and repeat until it is fully immersed.”

Haynes said cooks should allow three to five minutes cooking time per pound of turkey. Use a food thermometer to check that the turkey has reached at least 165 degrees in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and thickest part of the breast.

Both Haynes and Buys urge families to have working smoke alarms and fire escape plans.

“Make sure all family members know the route and practice it regularly,” Haynes said.

For more information about safe holiday decorating and cooking, visit the National Safety Council website at http://bit.ly/1AQNCn5, the Electrical Safety Foundation International website at http://bit.ly/2f4s6Xw, and the National Fire Protection Association website at http://bit.ly/2eY3sKP.

Released: November 10, 2016
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