Keep tragedy out of the holidays

With the first freeze of the season expected early this morning, Southwest Georgians need to keep in mind basic fire safety measures in their homes.

Before dawn Wednesday, a residence on Whitney Avenue in Albany caught fire because a space heater was located too close to combustible material.

This is also the time of year when Christmas lights are strung on trees and windows. And many still enjoy the soft flicker of candlelight or a roaring blaze in the fire place as temperatures dip and the holiday mood rises.

Earlier this year, state and local fire and insurance officials reminded Georgians about the dangers of fire and common sense ways to avoid a disaster that can destroy property and — even worse — claim lives.

In 2009, according to Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner Ralph Hudgens’s office, 2,565 people died in home fires nationwide and each year about 13,000 people in the United States are injured in them. Officials say most of the deaths would have been preventable had basic safety measures been taken before the blazes broke out.

Lifesaving action you can take includes having smoke and carbon monoxide alarms that are in good working order and operating on fresh batteries. If you didn’t change out your batteries when Daylight Savings Time ended last month, do it today.

In addition, keep things that can catch fire away from the stove. If you use a space heater, make sure it’s at least three feet away from anything flammable, graded properly to heat the area you’re using it in, and always turn it off before going to bed.

  • Stay in the kitchen while you are frying, grilling or broiling food. If you leave the kitchen for even a short period of time, turn the stove off.

  • Keep anything that can burn at least three feet away from heating equipment, like the furnace, fireplace with a fire screen, wood stove or portable space heater.

  • Have a three-foot “kid-free zone” around open fires and space heaters.

  • Replace or repair damaged or loose electrical cords. Inspect those string of Christmas lights closely before you hang them up. And if you’re using a live Christmas tree, make sure you keep it watered.

  • If you smoke, smoke outside. If you must smoke indoors, use deep, wide ashtrays on a sturdy table.

  • Blow out all candles when you leave the room or go to bed. Avoid the use of candles in the bedroom and other areas where people may fall asleep.

Disaster can strike at any time, but preparation and exercising good judgment can greatly improve the odds of keeping tragedy out of what should be the happiest time of the year.