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From fried turkeys to space heaters, beware of fire hazards during holidays

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Where's the fryer?

This photo of a turkey deep fryer fire is taken from a safety video currently posted on the Oxford Fire Department’s social media.

Oxford Fire Chief Gary Sparks wants everyone to have a holiday season where heartburn overshadows house fires as the number one plot complication to the joy of the winter months.

He said most of any woe comes from not using common sense when it comes to preparing the traditional festive dinners.

“Cooking fires are probably the number one cause of structure fires today and they are the most common type of fires during this time of year,” Sparks said.

He started by noting the popularity of deep-frying turkeys during the holiday season and fires spawning from using that method is “not a common thing,” but adds it does happen with some frequency.

“We had a house that burned up a few years ago,” Sparks recalled. “They had their turkey fryer on their back wooden deck. Turkey fryers are great, but you just have to be careful. We don’t want anyone to get burned or lose their house.”

Sparks said a turkey should be completely thawed in order to prevent ice from colliding with hot oil, causing it to boil outside of the fryer. The fryer itself should be operated away from the house and not inside a basement or carport.

“This is a hectic time and people get distracted,” the chief adds. “They leave something on the stove and the next thing you know, the kitchen is on fire. We encourage people to take extra care by making sure the pots’ and pans’ handles are turned inward. You want to make sure small children can’t reach up, grab a handle, and pull something off on to themselves.”

Sparks also encourages having an accessible fire extinguisher near the cooking area.

“If it’s a pan of grease that’s on fire, don’t pick it up and rush it outside. That will just spread it, spill it on yourself, or both,” he said. “Without a fire extinguisher, use anything available to smother the fire. That includes using things like flour and baking soda, or just covering it with a lid. Anything that cuts the oxygen supply off from the fire.”

The traditional decorations of Christmas can also be the cause of trouble when not used with safety in mind.

“If you are using a real tree, keep it watered so it doesn’t dry out,” Sparks said. “If it does dry out, it becomes kindling.”

He added the strings of lights on the tree and around the house, as well as the extension cords and power strips used to transmit the electricity to them, should be “UL approved.” That phrase from Underwriters Laboratories means the product has been tested and is safe for consumer use.

“I prefer to use a power strip with a breaker instead of a bunch of extension cords,” the chief said. “That gives an extra layer of protection.”

Sparks said any live candles should be extinguished when no one is home or there is a period of time they may go unattended. Candles should also be spaced away from anything flammable, such as window curtains.

“Fire needs space, and so if you have an open flame you need space for it to not heat up something else to its ignition temperature,” he said.

The winter months and the need for heating “is a real issue,” according to the chief.

“Space heaters need exactly what it says: space,” Sparks said. “You need to have three feet of clear space around all directions of a space heater. The radiant heat will continue to heat and could ignite something close by. We had a fire last week in Friendship caused by a space heater that had been left on in a bedroom.”

He said another recent fire was caused by the failure to maintain the chimney flue prior to lighting a fire in the fireplace.

“Many people just don’t clean their chimneys or do it before the season starts,” Sparks said. “And, there may be a floor furnace somewhere covered by a rug that has been forgotten before the heat is turned on. You want to make sure those things have been checked and are working right.”

Sparks said kerosene heaters should be fueled outside of the house, and the user should be careful that the fuel containers are properly marked so there can be no confusion as to what fuel is being used when filling the tanks. They should also be spaced away from any flammable material.

The chief repeated one of the fire department’s mantras urging the placement of working smoke detectors in the home.

“We have them available and they are free,” he said. “We will be happy to come to the house and install them, making sure they are placed where they need to be,” he said.

Those free smoke detectors and installations are also made available by the Anniston and Jacksonville Fire Departments.

“Just using a little bit of common sense can keep the holidays happy ones,” Sparks said. “Our guys would prefer to sit in the station and do nothing all day. But, that’s not likely to happen and we’re ready to serve when called.”