David Lockhart: ’Tis the season when house fires increase by 20 per cent

Fires can take hold at breathtaking speed
Fires can take hold at breathtaking speed
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Decorations and cards beside candles and open fires make Christmas a time to be extra vigilant, says Community Safety Manager David Lockhart, from Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Service

Flames are silently flickering in your living room – you’ve accidentally left a candle burning next to your Christmas cards.

It’s set fire to a curtain and within a mere four minutes the entire room could be engulfed.

You and your children are fast asleep in bed. Four minutes in a deep sleep passes in an instant – a working smoke alarm would have woken you by now... but you never got round to fitting one.

A fire at any time of the year is devastating. But over the festive season we know accidental house fires rise by 20 per cent and fire casualties by a third.

It’s a frightening thought, isn’t it? It could be your home lost to a fire, it could be you losing a family member or friend to fire. It could be you.

And in the aftermath? No clothes or personal belongings. No precious possessions. Potentially no roof over your head.

Victims of fire are often forgotten after the initial turmoil, with many not getting back into their property for months.

At Christmas, the danger of a fire breaking out in your home is heightened. Twenty people were injured by fire over an 18-day period at Christmas last year in Edinburgh, the Lothians and Scottish Borders – that’s an average of more than one a day.

Alcohol has a part to play in many fires, often combined with careless disposal of cigarettes or leaving cooking unattended – the perfect recipe for a killer inferno. It’s not our place to suggest people cut down on what they’re drinking or don’t smoke, all we ask is that you take a second to think. If you’ve had a few too many, don’t head towards the cooker. If you want to light up, go outside. It’s too easy to settle in your armchair and nod off with a cigarette in hand. Before you go to bed make sure cigarettes are extinguished and ask guests to do the same.

When a fire rips through your home it takes everything at breathtaking speed. Having a working smoke alarm can make the difference between a manageable fire, with an early warning, and you having to rebuild your life from the ashes.

It couldn’t be easier to protect your family and your home. Not only do we offer free smoke alarms with long-life batteries, firefighters will come to fit them. This isn’t a sales pitch, there is no financial gain for us – we fit them to save lives.

Christmas brings a host of flammable materials – paper and plastic decorations, cards and real Christmas trees. Add to that cooking, smoking, candles, fairy lights and open fires, it’s not surprising fire has wrecked so many festive holidays. Most accidents can be avoided by switching off Christmas lights, electrical appliances and extinguishing cigarettes when you go to bed or go out. Keep decorations away from candles and open fires – an obvious but surprisingly common mistake is putting cards above the fireplace. Also, don’t take batteries out of the smoke alarm to power Christmas presents.

Make an escape plan, does everyone know where your window and door keys are? If your main escape route is blocked, do you know what to do? In the excitement, noise and festivities of a party, will all guests have a clear path to safety? If you do find yourself trapped, get into a room together, preferably with a phone, open the window wide and dial 999 for the Fire and Rescue Service. If it’s safe to do so, stay at the window and wave and shout to attract attention.

After a fire, people often say they never thought it would happen to them – but why not? Fires happen to ordinary people often when they least expect it. It’s a terrifying ordeal to go through, please don’t let it happen to you.

Stay safe this Christmas

* Ensure your smoke detectors are working and check them every week, they could save your life.

* Check your Christmas tree lights conform to the British Standard and switch them off overnight or when you are out.

* Keep decorations clear of lights, candles and fires – that includes cards on fireplaces.

* Take extra care if you are smoking indoors.

* If you have been drinking, think twice about using the cooker.

* When preparing Christmas meals, never leave cooking unattended – fires can start and get out of control frighteningly quickly.

* Make an escape plan – do you and your guests know where your window and door keys are? Is your main escape route blocked?

* In an emergency remember: Get Out, Stay Out, Dial 999.

To arrange a free home safety visit, call free on 0800 169 0320. For further advice visit www.lbfire.org.uk.