Simple precautions can help keep homes safe

Oak Bay’s fire chief offers up some helpful hints to avoid unplanned fires

How many fire safety violations can you find in this picture? Festive as this scene looks

How many fire safety violations can you find in this picture? Festive as this scene looks

By the middle of December, the Oak Bay Fire Department is bracing for the potential for extra work.

The ideal scenario, says Fire Chief Gerry Adam, is that residents take precautions with Christmas trees and other holiday decorations and firefighters have a relatively quiet season.

And while no such disaster as a house burning down over the Christmas period has happened during his three decades with the force, Adam has some hints to help avoid unplanned fires.

“First and foremost, don’t use live candles,” he said. “It’s surprising how many people use them close to trees or (other flammable materials).”

He also reminded people to make sure live trees are kept watered. A suggestion for helping the tree absorb the liquid better, he said, is to cut the bottom few centimetres off the tree trunk and use sugar water in the stand.

Christmas lights should not be left unattended for periods of time – don’t go out with the tree lit up because it looks pretty from outside – and make sure no paper or other combustibles are sitting near lights that are on, even LED models, Adam said.

With the colder weather setting in, many people are also using their fireplaces, he said. A buildup of creosote can lead to a chimney fire, or worse, he added.

“What often happens (with chimney fires) is people have a fire going, then they throw paper in or a pizza box, and it gets that sudden flash of heat. That’s what can ignite the creosote.”

The first sign of a possible chimney fire is not seeing sparks coming from the top of the chimney, he said, but the loud roar that accompanies a major rush of flame in the fireplace. “That’s the air being drawn up into the chimney from inside the house,” Adam said.

If people use common sense fire prevention tips, he said, the only holiday-related calls his firefighters should have to attend are first-responder calls for people who eat too much Christmas dinner.