By Fire Captain Ryan Peters, Aptos La Selva Fire District
It’s amazing how quickly the year has flown by, here we are in November! It is an interesting time of year for the Fire Service as we transition from summer and fall into winter. This time of year presents a spectrum of issues we should prepare for.
The coming Winter storms dictate that we take some time to address Winter related hazards and consider what we can do now to protect ourselves and our property. It’s much better to spend a little time now and correct items around your property in the warm sun than to do so in the middle of a pouring rain at night.
Take a look around your property; is it ready for the rainy season? Have the gutters on your house been cleaned? Are the downspouts free of obstructions and connected to your drainage system if present? While looking at the gutters on the house what does the roof look like? Now is the time to arrange for repairs or replacement. Will rain water drain away from your home or will it accumulate? Does drainage from your property impact your neighbor’s property? Is your property ready for the strong winds that we often see during the winter? Take time now to secure loose items in the yard or store them for winter. Have any limbs or trees in question checked and removed if necessary.
Be ready to spend several days without electricity. Have flashlights and extra batteries on hand and, if possible, a landline telephone which requires no household electricity to operate. If you rely solely on your cell phone, consider purchasing a solar charger for electronic devices. A battery-operated radio is also a great addition to any home survival kit.
If you have a fireplace or wood stove, have the chimney cleaned and inspected, insure that a proper chimney cap and spark arrestor are in place. Check for limbs that may have grown over or near your chimney and trim them back at least 10 feet. In years past, we’ve responded to house fires which were caused by tree limbs touching the fireplace flue and igniting while the occupants had a fire in their fireplace. Make sure to remove all combustibles away from the fireplace and wall or floor furnaces that may have accumulated over the summer.
During strong winter storms, avoid driving into flooded areas; it only takes two feet of flowing water to quickly overpower and physically move a vehicle. As little as six inches of moving water can knock you off your feet so the best advice is to stay put during storms unless told otherwise by local emergency responders.
Please, Please do not touch, walk over or drive across down power lines. Even if downed lines appear to be dead they may still be energized or become energized at any moment. If you find yourself wanting to cross over down power lines ask yourself, is the reason for crossing worth my life? If you live in an area where flooding is possible keep sandbags, plastic sheeting and other materials on hand before the flooding starts.
It’s also the holiday season; everyone is busy with the hustle and bustle that goes with this time of year. While you are enjoying family and friends this year please take a few moments to ensure their safety.
Statistics show that during the month of December, 72% of all structure fires are in residential buildings with the leading causes being cooking and home heating activities.
While you are busy in the kitchen this year pay close attention to the common causes of holiday cooking fires. Cooks can often become distracted during this time of the year, by family, friends and the great adult beverages we enjoy together. On average 54% of cooking fires during the holidays will result from either food or cooking equipment being left unattended or combustible items like towels, wooden utensils, oven mitts and cook books being left too close to a heat source. Keep all combustibles well away from any heat source and never leave items cooking left unattended, it only takes a few minutes for oil in a pan to reach its ignition temperature and possibly ruin a holiday.
During the holidays we also see the use of open flame in our homes increase, with the use of a fireplace, wood stove and candles. With this increase we also see an increase in fires not only from items coming into contact with these open flames, but also from kids playing with fire.
Be very careful with candles keep them away from combustible items and never leave a candle burning when you leave the house or go to bed. Make sure if you have children in the home, remind them that fire is a tool, a very dangerous tool that should never be played with. Depending on the age of your children you may consider taking this time of year to teach them the proper use of fire and how to safely start a fire in the fireplace or how to light a candle, always under adult supervision.
Christmas tree fires can produce the most dangerous fires of all. An average Christmas tree will burn with the same intensity as a 2-foot pool of gasoline. How fast a Christmas tree fire will spread depends mostly on how dry it is. Take a few minutes and search for videos of Christmas tree fires on the internet, you will find many that show a fire in a tree spreading to the entire room in just a couple of minutes. If you have a real tree keep it well watered and remove a dry tree right away. Always keep the tree well away from ignition sources like the fireplace or heater and inspect all lights that you place on the tree and never leave them on while away from home or when going to bed.
Make sure you always have working smoke detectors in your home, change the batteries twice a year; you should have done this in November with the time change. While maybe not as exciting as many other holiday gifts, the gift of a smoke detector, carbon monoxide detector and a fire extinguisher may give the gift of life.
On behalf of the members of the Aptos La Selva Fire District I would like to wish you and your family a happy and safe holiday season. Oh and don’t forget you can spread the joy of the holiday season by stopping by any of the fire stations and donating food or toys for those in need.
For more information please visit an excellent informative website at www.usfa.fema.gov/citizens/home_fire_prev/holiday_seasonal/index.shtm or call your local fire department.