Special to the Bulletin

With holiday celebrations under way, the Pecan Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross in Brownwood is urging families to follow simple safety tips to keep the season merry and to prevent holiday fires.

During the winter holiday season the incidence and severity of home fires dramatically increases. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, each year nearly 47,000 fires occur nationally during the holidays claiming more than 500 lives, causing more than 2,200 injuries, and costing $554 million in property damage. Many of these fires are caused by home heating sources, unattended cooking and candles.

“Approximately 93 percent of all Red Cross disaster responses in 2007 were fire related,” Darlene Sparks Washington, national director for preparedness at the American Red Cross, said. “Many home fires can be prevented, and that’s what makes this type of disaster so devastating,” Following a few quick safety tips can help save lives and prevent your family’s festivities from being disrupted by a fire.”

The Red Cross recommends the following to prevent holiday home fires:

Keep all potential fuel sources (decorations, evergreen trees, wreaths) at least three feet from heat sources (candles, heat vents, fireplaces, portable heaters and radiators).

Turn holiday lights off and extinguish candles before leaving the room or going to bed.

After entertaining guests, walk around your home ensuring that candles and smoking materials are properly extinguished. Keep anything that can catch on fire — pot holders, oven mitts, wooden utensils, paper or plastic bags, food packaging, and towels or curtains — away from your stove top. Ensure that smoke alarms are installed outside of each sleeping area and on each level of your home. Use the test button on your smoke alarms to test them once a month and replace batteries once a year. Create or review your fire escape plan. Identify two escape routes from every room on your home and choose a convenient meeting place a safe distance from your home. Practice your escape plan at least twice a year with all family members. Never put tree branches or needles in a fireplace or wood burning stove. Safely dispose of trees as they become dry and needles begin to drop. Dispose of trees through recycling centers or community pick-up services. Dried-out trees should not be left at home or in a garage, or placed against the home or garage. Always unplug holiday lights (including tree lights) before leaving home or going to bed. Remember that lit candles are fire. Always extinguish candles before leaving the room or going to bed. Never use lit candles to decorate a tree. Keep candles at least three feet away from trees, evergreens, holiday decorations, and other items that can catch on fire like clothing, papers and curtains. Use candle holders that are sturdy, won’t tip over easily, are made from a material that cannot burn, and are large enough to collect dripping wax. Place candles only where they cannot be reached or easily knocked over by children and pets. Consider using battery-operated “flameless” candles that are scented and have a flickering effect.