The holidays can be a busy, distracting time. Between having family over, buying everyone a present and stringing up lights across the front porch, safety can be the last thing on your mind.
But Chapel Hill Fire Chief Matthew Sullivan and Police Chief Chris Blue said the holiday season is a busy time for them, too. In fact, Sullivan’s department has already had a one household fire this December. He had some simple tips for fire safety this holiday season.
Decorations are a key area, he said. Be sure to have enough extension cords and outlets for all your Christmas and holiday lights. Too much strain on one outlet can cause it to overheat. Add in flammable material, like a dry branch or piece of wrapping paper, and you have a very unsafe situation.
And keep an eye on candles too. Sullivan said you’d be surprised how many times in his career he’s had to respond to a structure fire during the holidays caused by candles.
Fireplaces need special attention. Be sure to check to make sure the chimney’s damper is open when starting a fire to avoid smoke building up inside the house.
“Inspect your chimney once a year,” Sullivan advised. “Make sure it’s checked out and swept by a certified chimney sweep.”
Any plants, like Christmas wreaths or trees, should be kept at a safe distance from a fireplace or similar heat sources.
And food preparation remains the largest cause of house fires during the holiday season, Sullivan said. People get their turkey fryers and other new gadgets out, they are distracted, and that can lead to some trouble.
Speaking of trouble, your local burglars are busy this month, Blue warned. In 2016, 17 larcenies were reported to Chapel Hill Police in December.
Blue said that’s because when residents, especially students, leave town for extended periods over the holidays, homes are left unattended and vulnerable.
A couple of the safety tips Blue recommends might seem basic, like keeping car and house doors locked, but he says the simple things can go a long way.
“Keep valuables out of sight. And that also means that new 50-inch television that you just got,” he said. “Don’t leave it in front of your living room window if you don’t have to.”
And be careful where you leave discarded boxes of holiday gifts. A big box for a flat screen television sitting on a curb is like an advertisement for potential burglars. Couple that with unread newspapers on the driveway and that property becomes vulnerable, Blue said.
So remember to put a hold on newspaper delivery or other regular mail if you’re leaving town for the holidays.
Blue also invited people to sign-up for the Home-Check program, where Chapel Hill police keep an eye on homes while residents are away.