Christmas trees are among the most popular decorations of yuletide, but they also can be deadly.

Between 2000 and 2004, on average, one out of every 22 Christmas tree fires in homes resulted in a death, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

NFPA statistics show that on average, both live and artificial Christmas trees are the ignition sources of 300 reported U.S. home structure fires each year — resulting in 14 fatalities, 21 injuries and $16.8 million in property damage.

The holiday season is not the only time to be cautious of fires, according to Athens Fire Chief Dan Barnes. Barnes said it was very important for home owners and renters to check the batteries in smoke detectors throughout the house.

“Checking the batteries can be associated with an important date, such as a birthday or Christmas,” Barnes said.

Of course, with cool weather coming on, a lot of people are using open space heaters, Barnes said.

“The space heaters should be watched, as they cause the most fires,” Barnes added. “People should also be especially cautious of candles, because of the open flames.”

Space heaters and candles are just a few items to be cautious of this time of year. Some people are using live trees, which can dry out easily. Without enough water, the needles of the trees are extremely flammable, according to Barnes.

“Most tree stands have water reservoirs,” Barnes said. “The best thing to do is keep the trees watered. It keeps them from drying out, but be especially cautious because it’s not 100 percent.”

The Athens Fire Department has been called to 27 fires from Oct. 1, 2006, through present day, according to Barnes.

“I think people are being more cautious, because of the drought this year,” Barnes remarked “There’s no burn ban, but it’s still dry because of the lack of rain.”

Fires injure more than 2,500 individuals during the holiday season each year, according to the Liberty Mutual Fire Smart Web site.

According to the 2006 Fire Safety Census — conducted by Liberty Mutual and the International Association of Fire Fighters — 75 percent of 1,000 Americans (ages 25 and up) polled are concerned about fire in the home.

The Web site states that despite 90 percent of Americans expressing a basic understanding of the importance of fire safety measures (smoke alarms, fire extinguisher, fire escape plan), there remain alarming high numbers who do not put these practices into place:

• 7 million Americans do not own a smoke alarm;

• 37 million Americans do not own a fire extinguisher;

• 50 million Americans do not have a fire escape plan, or admit to risky behaviors in the home, even when they know the dangers they present;

• 85 percent know that most home fires start in the kitchen, yet 26 percent say they have left food cooking on the stove or in the oven unattended, and 16 percent have gone so far as to disable a smoke alarm while cooking;

• 41 percent report leaving the clothes dryer running when not at home;

• 32 percent report leaving their holiday lights on when not at home; and

• 12 percent admit they leave burning candles unattended.

Behind all of these findings is the fact that more Americans die in home fires each year than all natural disasters combined. Indeed, home fires resulted in the deaths of more than 3,000 people in 2005, according to the IAFF. And children are particularly vulnerable, especially those under 5 years of age — who are twice as likely to die in a fire as the rest of the population.


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