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A fire chief's tips for safely decorating and cooking this Holiday season

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Posted at 12:56 PM, Nov 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-25 12:56:24-05

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. — As you prepare and eat your Thanksgiving meals, you’re probably already looking forward to the next big holiday.

This time of year is one of the busiest for firefighters across Central Virginia. In fact, the leading cause of fires in Henrico County is the unattended stove.

Fire officials said Christmas lights can also pose a big danger.

"When you bring those Christmas lights down from the attic, inspect that cord all the way through," said Henrico Fire Battalion Chief Doug Reynolds. "If there are breaks in the plastic, these lights are no good to you. They are going to cause a problem."

Reynolds has been fighting fires for 30 years.

“I'll tell you my very first house fire was a Christmas tree fire," he explained. "The father was actually filming his family on Christmas Eve, and as crazy as it sounds, the light bulb popped out of the old VCR camera and landed into tree and caught the tree on fire. So every year, we'll see several Christmas tree fires in the Richmond area."

Reynolds said if you choose to decorate a real Christmas tree, picking the right one is important.

"That starts with you just grabbing the needles on the branch," said Reynolds. "If it comes off in your hand, that tree is already way too dry for you. Don't pick that tree.”

Once you bring the tree inside your home, be sure to water it everyday.

"You're bringing it from a cold environment into your 70 degree house, and it's going to dry out quickly," Reynolds noted.

Also, be sure to keep the tree at least 36 inches away from any heating device. As you work to string Christmas lights, keep in mind extension cords are also a major cause of electrical fires.

"We're all guilty at Christmas, there's just never enough plugs in the house," he noted. "So get a quality cord, and do not what we call "daisy chain," where you've put an extension cord to extension cord to extension cord. You're going to overheat that cord."

When it comes to decorating the outside of your home, keep leaves off of cords and turn off all of your decorations before you go to bed.

Before you cook a holiday meal, make sure the inside of your oven has been cleaned and there's no extra grease at the bottom that could catch fire.

Also be sure to move combustible items away from the stove, and turn all pot and pan handles towards to wall.

"That way none of these kids grab them and pull them over," said Reynolds. "We see that on a regular basis all year round where kids pull over the stuff on top of them."

When all else fails, make sure you have and know how to use a fire extinguisher. You should also keep it in an obvious, easily-accesible location.

While these may sound like simple tips, Reynolds has seen what can happen when people don’t follow them.

"It leaves a lasting mark on you if you see somebody lose everything in their house at Christmas time," he explained.

He and his fellow firefighters want you and your family to celebrate the season of joy safely.

Another great tip this holiday season, if you can’t think of a gift idea for a loved one, consider purchasing a “gift of life." These are items like a fire extinguisher, smoke alarm, emergency escape ladder, emergency weather radios, first aid kits, large address numbers and flashlights.

Reynolds said these items may not seem like the “coolest gift," but they can help save your life.