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Monday, April 12, 2021

Holidays can bring happiness — and some danger

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It’s supposed to be the most wonderful of time of the year, but the holiday season also brings with it an increased risk of house fires, especially for Black people.

That’s because trees, stockings, lights and candles — indicative of the Christmas spirit for many — can also be hazardous, especially if people don’t give them the proper attention and make sure safety is still a priority.

Poverty can also play a role in holiday safety.

A recent study from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) found Black people have a particularly high risk of dying in a house fire.

The fire death rate per million for Black people from 2013 to 2017 was 15, second highest behind Native Americans. The total rate for all populations was 10 per million.

From age 55 and up, Black people had the highest fire death rate, topping out at 87 per million for the 85-plus group. Black children from 0 to 14 were also at the highest risk of dying in a fire.

The NFPA study said this is at least partly to blame on poverty. More than 21% of Black Americans lived below the poverty line in 2017, well above the 12.3% of the whole U.S. population.

“People who are poor generally have older things, often find it difficult to afford repairs or routine maintenance, may work multiple jobs to make ends meet, and are likely to face more stress,” the study’s author, Marty Ahrens, wrote. “They may have less energy and resources to focus on safety.”

Some of the safety tips experts shared are the simple stuff that applies year-round, such as making sure the smoke alarms work properly. But the holidays offer some unique safety challenges.

Real Christmas trees can dry out, for example, or decorations might be placed too close to a heating source.

“A lot of people don’t think about that when they’re decking the halls,” said Jennifer Williams, a fire safety expert and marketing specialist with UL Firefighter Safety Research Institute (FSRI).

For those who opt for an artificial tree, that’s not a safety guarantee. Williams said it’s best to get a tree that’s been third-party tested for fire resistance. A real tree should be cut an inch or two from the bottom so there’s fresh wood to soak up water.

With the holidays being one of the most common times to have overnight guests — or to be an overnight guest — it’s also important to have an emergency preparedness plan and make sure everyone in the house knows what that is.

Indianapolis Fire Department (IFD) warns families that unattended cooking is one of the leading causes of house fires around the holidays. Along with monitoring food while it cooks, it’s important to keep combustibles such as dish towels and aprons away from the heat.

IFD also warns against using the oven to heat a home.

One statistic serves as a blunt reminder of how fire safety has had to evolve over the years.

According to FSRI data, families had up to 17 minutes to escape a house fire 40 years ago. Now, because of open floor plans and more synthetic materials, the escape time is down to three minutes or less.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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