Plugging them in

Overloaded outlets and failure to follow instructions for electric decorations are the cause of most holiday fires. Fire chiefs urge folks to be mindful of where decorations are plugged in, and if they are being used correctly.

This time of year calls of festive decorations, such as trees, lights, tinsel and other decorations, but they can also bring fire hazards in the home if not handled properly.

Shade Gap fire chief Rick McMullen believes fires can be avoided when folks take note of what decorations pose the biggest threat.

“Anything electric powered can potentially start a fire,” McMullen said. “Flammable decorations can help it spread, like a dry Christmas tree, old paper ornaments and plenty of others. Newer decorations tend to be made of better material, but they’re still flammable.”

Holiday fires are often caused by electrical malfunctions. McMullen advises residents stay mindful of any electric decorations in use.

“What you’ll see most often is that holiday fires are caused by overloaded outlets,” McMullen said. “People will plug too many things into a single outlet. The older wiring in many local homes makes the issue worse. People many also string together too many lights. Just pay attention to where lights are plugged and follow the instructions for strands of lights so fires don’t happen.”

Jack Fortney, Mount Union fire chief, agreed, but noted there are things that should also be considered.

“Don’t place heavy objects on top of cords or extension cords,” Fortney said. “It can splice it open and expose the wire. Really, it’s all common sense; don’t overload outlets, read instructions, all the basic things.”

If a fire were to occur in a home, both fire chiefs advise residents to evacuate the home and gather in a predetermined spot, as with all fires.

“When a fire starts, get out of the home and call 911 however you can,” Fortney said. “Do not reenter the home. People will go back in looking for pets, but it just puts them back into harm’s way. Make sure those in the home have a fire escape plan, like where to exit and where to meet outside so everyone can be accounted for. Fire services will be there as soon as possible.”

McMullen also warned against fighting electrical fires.

“You’re not doing yourself any favors if you throw water onto an electrical fire,” McMullen said. “Just go to a neighbor’s home or use a cellphone to call 911.”

Both McMullen and Fortney confirm that, though not common throughout the county, holiday fires can still occur to those who do not take necessary precautions.

“You don’t see it much, but it can still happen. I would say at least once a year in Huntingdon County,” McMullen said. “There are a lot of people here, so there’s an issue every year sooner or later.”

“They’re relatively uncommon, but it does still happen throughout the county every so often,” Fortney said.

Joshua can be reached at


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