The Free Press, Mankato, MN

November 21, 2012

Wreath reminds residents about holiday fire hazards

By Dan Nienaber
Free Press Staff Writer

MANKATO —  It’s a new wreath and its location has changed, but the message is the same: Take precautions to avoid a fiery tragedy during the holidays.

As it does every year, Mankato’s Department of Public Safety is putting out a lighted wreath to remind people about fire safety. All of the bulbs on the wreath will be white when it’s lit Thanksgiving morning and the city’s firefighters would prefer to see them stay that way through Jan. 1, which is when the wreath will be taken down.

If a red bulb is added, that means there’s been a fire in the city that was preventable. A blue light represents a fire-related injury. Last year three red bulbs were added during the holidays for preventable fires, including one started by something combustible being left too close to a toaster and another started by a discarded cigarette.

“It’s our annual way of making people aware of fire safety,” said Jeff Bengtson, public safety deputy director.

Firefighters replaced their old wreath this year. They also moved the wreath to their new fire hall at the intersection of Riverfront Drive and Liberty Street.

Bengtson has several tips to avoid the types of fires that are commonly seen around the holidays.

He suggested using simulated candles that are powered by batteries instead of real candles. The fake candles look real and some also feel real because they are made of wax.

If you do prefer the real thing, Bengtson recommended using candles that are in a glass holder with a broad base. They are less likely to tip and ignite curtains, newspapers or other nearby combustibles.

Those pretty Christmas lights can also be a fire hazard if they aren’t plugged in properly, Bengtson said. Sturdy extension cords should be used and, if they are too long, the excess cord shouldn’t be bundled in one spot. That creates heat that can damage the cord’s insulation. Residents should also make sure they have the power needed to light their Christmas lights without tripping circuits, he said.

It’s not uncommon for people to start kitchen fires during the holidays because it’s easier to burn food, Bengtson said. Family conversations and rambunctious kids can draw attention away from what’s cooking on the stove or in the oven.

Frying that Thanksgiving or Christmas turkey is becoming more popular. There haven’t been any tragedies in Mankato, but there are usually reports from other cities about people who cause a fire by improperly frying their turkeys.

Bengtson suggested keeping the fryer away from the house and out of the garage. He also said its a good idea to expect something to go wrong so you can extinguish a grease fire quickly if it starts.