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Season brings hazards

Fire Fighters encourage revellers to keep eye on Safety at Christmas

Dawn Ostrem
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 01/00) - Nobody thinks about the fire hazards associated with Christmas events such as roasting chestnuts on an open fire, but they're out there.

A fire ripped through a mobile home on Forrest Drive in 1991 two days before Christmas.

The trailer was destroyed and a family of four was stripped of its tree, presents and holiday spirit as they watched their home and belongings perish in flames.

Mike Lowing, deputy fire chief at the Yellowknife Fire Department, said fire dangers lurk behind the festive season's ambience of peace and goodwill. He said people are less cautious during social gatherings when main priorities are the likes of eggnog and mistletoe.

He believes the last major fire started at Christmas was kids playing with matches.

"It's a hectic and busy time for parents," he said.

Take trees: the most symbolic representation of Christmas in North America. Fake and fire resistant are the safest, but many Northerners choose the real variety which can often become dangerous.

"It's as simple as grabbing a branch and bending it or grabbing a handful of needles and squeezing them," he said. "If the branch easily snaps and the needles come off in handfuls then the tree has already been dry for a period of time and it is not safe to put in the home."

A dry tree plus many old and battered sections of lights plugged together equals a good chance for fire.

Lowing advises no more than two strands plugged into each other. When the lights are the "been in the family for years" variety they tend to be brittle.

"If you start to see divots or cracks and penetrations, or start to see wire, then they are definitely not worth using," Lowing said, adding, "It doesn't matter if it is a synthetic tree or a real tree."

And if the tree isn't flammable enough, when boxes of combustible decorations, are strategically placed over the tree like kindling, the end product can be very bad.

Candles are another festive item that, though popular, can be seen in fire statistics across North America. Popular in the 1970s, unpopular in the 1980s and now popular again, they are even more desired during the holidays.

"Whatever contains the candle needs to be firm," Lowing said, adding the cheaper the faster they burn. "Even in Yellowknife we are seeing more and more candle fires."

Kids and pets, Lowing added are another concern for the fire department. Lowing warns to keep fire starters out of reach of children and candles out of the path of pets.

"If everything else fails a working smoke alarm is the last chance," Lowing said.

Detectors reduce the chances of fatalities in fires by 50 per cent.