MANATEE -- Ninety seconds.
That's how long it takes a dried out Christmas tree to be engulfed in flames once it catches on fire, says Eric J. Center, Fire Marshal of Cedar Hammock Fire Rescue in Manatee County.
It takes the flaming tree roughly four more minutes to engulf a modern living room, with non-hardwood furniture, in flames, Center added.
Certainly no one wants to think about a house fire started by a Christmas tree or other tragedy during the holidays when spirits soar, but holiday activities tend to cause fires, falls, slips, trips, burns, lacerations, bone breaks and other problems, experts say.
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According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, there were approximately 15,000 emergency room visits in the nation involving holiday decorating in November and December of 2012, which translates to 250 injuries per day that were holiday related.
The live tree and decorations
It's as simple as water to keep a natural tree safe from fire and maybe the whole house, Center said.
"The most important thing is keeping water at the base of the tree," Center said. "You must keep the tree from drying out. That's where the problem comes. If that tree is properly watered and maintained during the holidays you shouldn't have any issues."
When the tree is not watered, the branches and nee
dles get like kindling and can catch fire quickly.
Candles are a serious problem if they are near the dried tree, Center said.
Holiday decorations look great but they can be highly flammable, according to Eric Grant, a safety expert with The MEMIC Group, a regional workers' compensation specialty insurer which has an office in Tampa. Grant has more than 20 years experience in the construction and manufacturing industries.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, from 2009 to 2011, tree and candle fires caused 80 deaths, 700 injuries, and $324 million in property loss, in the nation.
Consider the power source used to light up the decorations, Grant said. Extension cords with exposed wires and missing ground prongs should be inspected and removed from service. Exposed wires on the decorations and broken bulbs are part of the problem, as are outlets that are overloaded, he said.
"You must inspect your lights," Grant said.
Luis Pieretti, also with The MEMIC Group, warns that some extension cords are for outdoor activities and some for indoors and people should be aware that they have the proper extension for the job. Also, extension cords wrapped around and around and left for days build up heat, said Pieretti, a member of the American Society of Safety Engineers.
"I teach that electric extensions are meant for temporary use so finish and take it out," Pieretti said. "People leave them connected for long periods of time. Ideally they should be disconnected."
Christmas ornaments can be a choking hazard for small children, Center said.
"Put the smaller ornaments at the top of the tree," Center added.
Another nasty fire to be guarded against is a grease fire in the kitchen, Center said.
"No. 1: Do not put water on a grease fire," Center said. "It enhances the fire. A lot of people who get hurt or injured during cooking fires think if they put water on them they will get them under control. My advice is to call 911 immediately and use your fire extinguisher, which you should have. Don't panic and throw water. Call us. We will be there fast and get it under control."
Ladders and foot stools
Of the 15,000 emergency room visits, mentioned earlier, 34 percent involved falls, while 11 percent were the results of lacerations, and another 10 percent stemmed from strained backs.
Ladders, used for putting up holiday decorations inside and outside the house, are at the source of many of these injuries.
They can lay around and get broken rungs or breaks in the frame.
Only a small percentage of people ever inspect their ladders before climbing on them even though their health is at risk, Grant said.
"Make sure there is no visible damage," Grant said.
The ladder, if it meets the inspection, must be carefully secured because a ladder will easily slide to one side if not firmly in place.
"The best way is to have someone hold the ladder for you," Grant said. "Make sure the ladder is on level ground and that it doesn't sink in the soil."
"The key thing is that people who don't use a ladder every day are not practiced in it," Pieretti said.
The holidays are a time when people often dine away from home.
The three experts explain that many people get sick at holidays Christmas parties because food is often left out a long time.
"Food poisoning is a significant issue at the holidays," Pieretti said.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond.