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Countywide : Fireplace, Christmas Tree Dangers Cited

Although the fire in the fireplace keeps the room toasty, and the evergreen in the living room adds a warm, festive touch, firefighters warn that such holiday traditions can quickly become dangerous fire hazards.

To avoid the household fires that plague the county at this time of year, Westminster Fire Department spokesman Craig Campbell encouraged county residents to take precautions in using fireplaces and to remove trees from the home by New Year’s Day.

Campbell said the greatest fire danger to a home during the holidays is a dry and brittle tree, which he called “a time bomb waiting to go off.” If set ablaze, dry trees burn like gasoline, he said.

“They actually explode when they come in contact with fire,” Campbell said. “Even with real quick response” from firefighters, at least one room will be destroyed, if not the entire house, he said.

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He also warned that disposing of a tree by breaking it up and using it as fireplace kindling is particularly dangerous because the heat can cause dry branches to ignite even before they touch the flames.

Fireplaces also spark many structure blazes each holiday season when partially burned oils that accumulate in the chimney ignite. Called creosote, the cooking oil-like layer coats the flue each time material is burned, causing an extreme hazard for roofs, especially wood ones, if that combustible material escapes from the chimney.

Fireplaces used as often as three times a week during winter months can build up a quarter-inch of creosote, and Campbell said they should be swept annually. The only materials that should be used in a fireplace, he said, are hard woods, fire logs and dry woods without sap, all of which produce only minor amounts of creosote.

Also, residents should install spark arresters--special screens that trap floating embers in the chimney, Campbell said. County law requires that anybody with a new home or business must have a spark arrester on their fireplace, he said. Residents in some cities can be held liable for firefighting costs if their chimney has no spark arrester and causes a blaze.

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Campbell also said that residents should make sure their fires are out when they go to bed, keep a fire extinguisher handy and periodically check smoke detectors to make sure they are in good working order.


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