Avoid a holiday fire.

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire may be a pleasant holiday thought, but those at the Richmond Fire Department realize the dangers and warn the community to be aware of fire safety during the colder months.

There are several causes of holiday fires ranging from Christmas tree lights to open fireplaces.

As heating prices increase, alternative methods of heating are becoming more popular, said Corey Lewis, public relations officer for the Richmond Fire Department.

In many instances, people will use a gas-heating alternative that can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning, he said.

“In the winter months, we respond mostly to carbon monoxide calls,” Lewis said. “People without electric heat will use gas appliances and may get carbon monoxide detector activation. A lot of times it just means that the battery needs changed, but if it’s showing that the levels of carbon monoxide are high, then we must find where it’s coming from.”

It is becoming more common for people to have gas-powered water heaters, furnaces and stoves, he said.

Kerosene-fueled heaters and space heaters are other common types of heating devices used for those without electric heat.

Even though a space heater is electrically powered, it can still cause a fire if it comes in contact with something laying on the ground or if something gets thrown on top of it, Lewis said.

“A fire could be prevented by giving the appropriate amount of space around the heater,” he said. “There also are space heaters available that turn off when they are tipped over. They have an automatic shut-off system.”

Any time a kerosene heater is used, the home should be equipped with a carbon monoxide detector.

It may seem that electric heat is the safest, but it also can cause problems that residents should be aware of, Lewis said.

Those who prefer live Christmas trees should be aware of all central heating outlets around the tree.

“Just the radiant heat coming from a central heating system could ignite a tree,” he said.

Tree lights that have exposed wires should not be used and the lights on a tree or house should not be left on overnight.

“During the Christmas season, one of the most common things we see is that people are not using flame-resistant tree decorations,” he said. “Any time we see people putting trees in their homes, we remind them that they need to have a reliable fire extinguisher, know where it’s at and how to use it properly.”

Live trees should be watered regularly in order to keep the needles from becoming dry and brittle, which makes them more likely to catch fire.

“Just practice being sensible,” Lewis said. “It can go a long way.”

Do not get carried away and overload electrical outlets, said Richmond Fire Chief Gerald Tatum. Other useful holiday fire-prevention measures include never running an extension chord under a rug; making sure that all heat-producing devices are at least three feet away from all objects, especially those that are combustible; and never use a stove as a heating mechanism.

“This is simply an unsafe practice,” Tatum said. “It’s not a heater and it may cause children to get burned when they walk by it. There also could be something on the burners or in the stove that could catch on fire.”

A fireplace can be a nice touch during the holiday season, but they also can be hazardous if not used correctly, Lewis said.

“Always use a screen in front of the fireplace to prevent embers from flying into the room and never leave children alone in a room where there’s a fireplace,” he said. “Never burn paper or other materials in your fireplace and remove all ashes from the home using a metal container.”

Providing proper maintenance on a fireplace also can cut down on the risk of fire.

“Make sure that you’ve had your fireplace cleaned and inspected by a licensed professional,” he said. “A chimney will look fine on the outside, but the next thing you know, your home is filled with smoke.”

Properly working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are essential for any home all year round and not just during the holiday season.

The Richmond Fire Department is installing both types of detectors in homes for free, and already have given away about 1,000 smoke detectors and 250 carbon monoxide detectors.

Residents who have not had their detectors tested recently or do not have enough smoke or carbon monoxide detectors in the home can call the Richmond Fire Department at 623-1164 for free installation.

Ronica Shannon can be reached at or 623-1669, Ext. 234.

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