The U.S. Fire Administration says the three most common causes of house fires during the holiday season are cooking, candles and Christmas trees — dubbed the “three Cs of holiday home fire safety” — and in Highland County, fire officials say most holiday house fires begin in the kitchen.
Homemade treats are an important part of the holiday season for many Highland County residents, but Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District Public Information Officer Lt. Branden Jackman said distracted cooking or unattended dishes-in-progress can ruin the party — and have disastrous consequences.
Jackman said most of the holiday fires his department responds to between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day are cooking-related.
“People are trying to do too many things at once and they forget there’s a pan of cooking oil on the stove,” Jackman told The Times-Gazette. “Another is individuals not thawing their holiday turkey completely and then trying to deep fry it.”
Jackman recommends keeping an A-B-C type fire extinguisher handy in the kitchen. In the event of a grease fire, Jackman stressed that water should never be used to douse the blaze.
“Here’s what happens,” Jackman said. “Water expands roughly 10,000 times when it turns to steam, so when you dump that water on a grease fire it goes to the bottom of the pan and is immediately flash-transferred to steam, and then when it expands, it causes that oil to literally explode out of the pan while it’s on fire.”
He recalled that at a safety demonstration this year, firefighters purposely allowed a small grease fire to flare up, and then threw water on it — with explosive results.
“When we did that, you could feel the heat about 30 feet away,” he said.
Jackman suggested keeping a lid or a cookie sheet close by for stovetop cooking, since a small grease fire can be quickly snuffed out by sliding the lid or cookie sheet over the skillet or saucepan then turning off the burner.
The same thing can be done for an oven flame-up, he said, by simply leaving the door closed and turning off the oven.
A report from the U.S. Fire Administration advises keeping a watchful eye on the other two “Cs” of holiday fire safety.
Holiday candles are the cause of 20 percent of home fires, the study said, and the USFA recommended candles be placed a minimum of 12 inches from flammable items like a curtain or holiday garlands — live or artificial.
The report also warned against using candles in the bedroom, saying one third of candle fires start in that area of the house.
The last “C” of holiday fire safety, Christmas tree fires, can be fatal, with the USFA report stating that one in every 40 tree fires ends in a death.
Tom Olshanski, a spokesman for the USFA, said in a news release that it takes less than 30 seconds for a dry tree to engulf a room in flames.
The USFA advises homeowners and apartment dwellers to make sure live Christmas trees are watered at least once per day, and are a minimum three feet away from home heating sources, such as fireplaces, wood burning stoves, radiators and space heaters.
Jackman echoed the fire administration.
“You have got to keep a live Christmas tree watered,” Jackman said. “It is astounding as to how fast a dry pine tree will support combustion, and the sap will produce so much heat that the tree will practically explode while it burns.”
He also recommended checking the wiring and connections on Christmas lights, and to dispose of them if the wiring is found to be frayed or exposed, or if the bulbs themselves are loose in their sockets.
If there is a house fire caused by cooking, candles or a Christmas tree and it spreads out of control, Jackman said, don’t try to fight it, but evacuate the house, close the door to contain the flames and call 911 immediately.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.