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A Word With The Captain: Spotting Holiday Danger In Your Home

LA County Fire Department Captain Doug La Count talks about the potential dangers of certain holiday items.

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Kern County Raceway

The clock is ticking, inching Santa Clarita ever closer to the holidays. Already, decorations abound in many homes and while they all look pretty and help to ring in cheery times, some of them could pose a substantial risk if not attended to.

Candles

They provide ambiance to a festive home and send sweet aroma from room to room. But candles, left unwatched, are a common source of disaster in the home.

Often, the placement of candles is to blame for starting house fires. Candles should only burn in areas where they have clearance from drapes, papers, in-home plants and furniture. They should also be set in a place where they aren’t easily reached or knocked over by children or pets. 

Most importantly, candles should only stay lit if an adult is in the room at all times. Blowing out a candle before leaving a room, and especially before going to bed is a good way to ensure that the flames won’t silently start a major fire while you are occupied elsewhere.

Christmas Trees

One of the quickest and deadliest ways holiday house fires get out of control is with the help of Christmas trees.

“Christmas trees are a big one,” said Captain Doug La Count, head of Los Angeles County Fire Station 107 in Canyon Country. 

Fire needs two components to burn; flame and fuel. A Christmas tree is one of the fastest burning fuels that normally resides in homes, which is why home fires around the holidays tend to be disproportionately dangerous.

La Count recommends using an artificial tree, as he started doing many years ago after going on a series of tragic Christmas tree fire calls. He noticed that even though his own family’s tree was properly cared for, it still deteriorated to a dangerous state. 

“I bought it, [when] it was green,” he said. “A few days later the thing dried up on me, and I had it in water.”

Combine a dry tree with any number of ignition sources and a fire could start and spread very quickly.
“Often times it could be the wiring from the lights causing a short circuit. It could be candles nearby falling over, or the tree could be too close to the fireplace. It could also be children playing with matches…there are lots of causes,” La Count said. 

Once lit, the tree will create a fire bigger and stronger than normal household fires.

“That’s a lot of heat, a lot of BTU’s coming off that tree, and you’re going to get a fast moving fire in your house.”

The key, according to Captain La Count, is to remove a dried up Christmas tree from your home as soon as possible.

If tragedy were to strike in your home, it is important to have a plan.

  • Step one should always be to get out of the home as quickly as possible. In a fast moving fire, even the slightest delay to grab personal belongings could prove deadly.

  • Step two would be to organize a meeting place for members of your family. Smaller children should be escorted out by adults, but if that’s not possible, then a meeting place should be established across the street or in a neighbor’s yard. This will help to ensure you get an immediate and accurate count of your family members so that no one is left behind.

Before such an occurrence becomes a reality, simple measures can help too. Replace the batteries in every smoke detector in the home every six months. Also, teach children how to dial 911 if there is an emergency.

Above all else, be vigilant. Certainly candles and Christmas trees are a wonderful addition to the holidays, and if manufactured alternatives aren’t to your liking, the real ones can be safe, so long as you maintain and watch over them.