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Home safety tips for the holidays
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We are just a few short weeks from Christmas, which is also when the days are shortest, people are shopping, there are holiday parties and gatherings, and more time is spent indoors. Here are a few important things to keep in mind to ensure your December is as safe as possible.

People with indoor Christmas trees should be aware of their potential to catch fire. And when they do, they burn hot and fast because they tend to be dry and contain the liquid from which turpentine is made. Once one of these trees catches fire, they can easily burn the entire home to the ground. It makes sense to keep electrical appliances away from Christmas trees, candles should not be used for decorations, and the trees should not be placed near a fireplace, water heater, portable electric space heater or furnace. Be sure to inspect decorative lighting for possible frayed electrical cords or loose bulbs.

Now is also a good time for a fireplace safety and law compliance reminder. Before using a fireplace, it should be inspected and cleaned. It is not uncommon for birds to build nests in the chimney. Leaves and other tree parts can easily find their way into chimneys and cause dangerous blockages, which may result in the house to becoming filled with smoke and flames.

Creosote, which is a sticky, flammable by-product of normal fireplace usage, accumulates in the chimney and can lead to chimney fires. Chimneys should be inspected for creosote build-up and cleaned prior to using the chimney. Also, it is essential to use a fireplace screen to keep sparks and hot embers from escaping the fireplace. Do not forget to open the flue before lighting a fire in your chimney! And maybe it goes without saying, but it is absolutely dangerous to use gasoline or other flammable liquids to get the fireplace fire started.

Fireplace use is regulated by law. On days when the air is stagnant or particularly polluted, fireplace use is prohibited. Before burning wood in your fireplace, be sure to check with the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution District at You may also call 1-800-766-4463 for an automated voice message about whether or not it is a burn day.

Finally, keep in mind there are many lonely people who have no one with them during the holidays. They may be suffering from depression and having fallen out of mainstream society. We need to look out for and help these individuals, some of them may well be living in your neighborhoods. A few kind words, a visit, a small gift, or just a smile can make a huge difference. The holiday season has its challenges, but it truly gives us all an excuse to give to others or to care for those who have little or no social connections - the lonely, the disenfranchised and the infirm.