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Focus On Fire Safety
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With the holidays upon us, the San Joaquin County Fire Chiefs Association reminds all citizens to think and practice fire safety in your homes. The National Fire Protection Association reports that an estimated 250 home structure fires that began with Christmas trees occur annually. Christmas tree fires caused an average of 14 civilian deaths, 26 civilian injuries, and $13.8 million in direct property damage per year from 2003 to 2007.

"Although these fires are not common, when they do occur, they are likely to be unusually serious," said Dennis Bitters, president of the San Joaquin County Fire Chiefs Association and chief of the Ripon Consolidated Fire District. "On average, one of every 18 reported home structure Christmas tree fires resulted in a death compared to an average of one death per 134 total reported home structure fires."

Nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of the home Christmas tree structure fires were in December and 22 percent were in January. More than one-third (36 percent) of the fires were reported on the 10 days between Christmas Eve and the day after New Year's Day. The top day was Christmas Day with six percent of the fires.

The Fire Chiefs Association recommends the following to help keep you and your family fire safe:

Picking A Tree

• If you have an artificial tree, be sure it is labeled, certified, or identified by the manufacturer as fire-retardant.

• In choosing a fresh tree select a tree with fresh, green needles that do not fall off when touched.

Placing The Tree

• Before placing the tree in the stand, cut one to two inches from the base of the trunk.

• Make sure the tree is at least three feet away from any heat source; like fireplaces, portable heaters, candles, heat vents, or lights.

• Make sure the tree is not blocking an exit.

• Add water to the tree stand. Be sure to add water daily.

Lighting The Tree

• Use lights that have the label of an independent testing laboratory. Some lights are only for indoor or outdoor use.

• Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. Connect no more than three strands of mini string sets and a maximum of 50 bulbs for screw-in bulbs.

• Never use lit candles to decorate your tree.

• Always turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving your home or going to bed.

When The Holidays Are Over

• Get rid of the tree after Christmas or when it is dry. Dried out trees are fire dangers and should not be left in your home or garage.

• If you put up your tree right after Thanksgiving, it needs to be taken down the week after Christmas. After New Year's Eve even a well-watered tree can become a fire hazard.

• Recycle your tree if you can. Find a recycling program in your community.

• Bring outdoor electrical lights inside after the holidays to prevent hazards and make them last longer.

"The members of the San Joaquin County Fire Chiefs Association hope you follow these simple steps to keep you and your family safe over the holidays," said Bitters.