When a Menlo Park firefighter put a lighter to a dried Christmas tree this morning, it was engulfed in flames in less than 10 seconds and the flames were shooting up five feet in the air. The same lighter to a green Christmas tree that had been kept watered did not even result in flame after 20 seconds.
That was just one important safety lesson demonstrated today at the Baylands Structural Collapse Training Site in Menlo Park. The Menlo Park Fire District put on a show and tell of various scenarios that can literally be deadly around the holidays.
Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman says "The holidays are a time when there are added risk factors for fire, including Christmas trees, but also more candles being lit, fireplaces being used and more cooking in the kitchen." He says not paying attention in any one of those situations can be deadly.
Schapelhouman remembers a number of recent incidents which did result in injury or death including an early morning fire in 2003 that took the lives of two children in East Palo Alto. That fire happened on Christmas Day when a spark from the fireplace caught the Christmas tree on fire and trapped some of the family members in the home.
There was also a Christmas Eve fire that killed an Atherton man in 2005. He was using a pellet stove to keep warm and his clothes caught on fire when he was stoking the flames. Most recently last year, eight people were almost killed when there was a buildup of carbon monoxide in the basement where they were camped out. They were using a generator and heater on the foreclosed property for heat and appliances.
Last year there were more than 1.4 million fires and explosions in the United States. That amounts to one every 20 seconds. In terms of civilian lives lost in fires, there were 3,320 last year, or one every two and a half hours.
Schapelhouman is urging everyone to follow basic fire safety rules and not leave fire unattended.
Firefighters say they hope their not so subtle message reminds everyone to be careful this winter and that a working smoke detector could be a life-saving gift.