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Holidays increase threat of house fires

The holidays can be a magical time, the world aglow with festive lights refracted through the fresh-fallen snow, but merriment can turn to tragedy if you’re not careful.

“Just last year the Shutesbury Fire Department responded to a structure fire that involved a Christmas tree,” said Walter Tibbetts, Shutesbury fire chief.

Last Dec. 11, Shutesbury firefighters were called to a Merrill Drive home at 10:30 p.m. for a report of a fire.

The house was heavily damaged. Firefighters were able to determine that the fire started when the family’s Christmas tree, set up feet from their fireplace, was ignited by a stray ember.

Sinneh Rose and her two daughters escaped unharmed, though their three cats weren’t as lucky.

Although the Roses’ tree was touched off by fireplace embers, even an old strand of Christmas lights can be enough to start a blaze.

On Christmas Day, 1995, Greenfield firefighters responded to a Phillips Street apartment building that had gone up in flames. The fire blocked the interior stairs, and several second- and third-floor residents had to be helped off the fire escape, said Michael Winn, Greenfield fire chief.

A strand of the tree’s lights had shorted out, and heated up enough to set the tree aflame, said Winn. He said the second and third floors of the building were destroyed.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, firefighters respond to an average of 230 structure fires each year that started with a Christmas tree. Incidents like these are tragic, but preventable. You can start by following the U.S. Fire Administration’s holiday tips below.

∎ Don’t put your live Christmas tree up too early, or leave it up for more than two weeks.

∎ Trees should be kept away from fireplaces, vents, and other heat sources. Though the heat from a baseboard may not be enough to start a tree on fire, it is enough to dry it out, making it more combustible.

∎ Keep your tree stand full of water, to keep your tree hydrated.

∎ Don’t use flammable decorations.

∎ Don’t link more than three strands of lights together, unless the directions say it’s safe. Connect your lights to the wall socket through an extension cord, rather than plugging them straight into the wall.

∎ Avoid lit candles. Consider using battery-operated flameless candles instead.

∎ Make sure your Christmas tree or other holiday decorations don’t block any of your exits.

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