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Fires increase around holidays


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November 14, 2013
GROSSE POINTE FARMS — Fire season isn't just something Smokey the Bear frets about in summer.

As Thanksgiving arrives in two weeks, public safety officers remind residents house fires are more likely during the winter holiday season than most other times of the year.

"They sure are," said Lt. Jack Patterson of the Grosse Pointe Farms public safety department.

"As might be expected, cooking fires increase on both Thanksgiving and Christmas days," according to the U.S. Fire Administration's 2005 report on the Seasonal Nature of Fire.

Fire loss is 34 percent greater than normal during the winter holiday period through New Year's, the report concluded.

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Cooking fires account for 43 percent of the 5,200 Thanksgiving fires tallied in the report.

Patterson advised residents to outfit kitchens with a chemical extinguisher.

"They sell an extinguisher at local hardware stores that works specifically on grease fires," he said. "It has the same chemical agent as in the exhaust hoods of restaurants. It works on just about anything on a cooktop, even deep fryers or turkey deep fryers."

Chemical extinguishers are needed in kitchens because water won't put out grease fires.

"Water displaces grease. It doesn't put it out," Patterson said.

Danger increases during the holidays due to the indoor use of combustibles, such as Christmas trees, garland, electric lights, open flames, including fireplaces and candles.

Fire prevention includes safety preparation.

"If you use your fireplace at all, have a professional company do a cleaning once per year," Patterson said.

He strongly suggested a video inspection of chimneys to find cracked mortar and bricks.

"We've had a few fires over the years where mortar was broken away from brickwork inside the fireplace," Patterson said. "Flames get through those holes to the wood behind it. We seem to get one or two of those every year or two."

A few years ago, Farms officers fighting a house fire encountered a chimney with a missing brick.

"We knocked down the fire in the hearth, but it seemed like we had excessive smoke," Patterson said. "I went into the attic and, sure enough, fire had gone into the attic and moved over two beams from the fireplace. It could have burned down the house."

Candles present a similar risk.

"Candles smell nice and everything, but they're an open flame in your home," Patterson said. "If you're going to have something burning in your home, someone has to be in an attendance. You can't walk away, especially if you have pets or little kids."

He also warned against placing candles next to flammable wall coverings.

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