Fire officials warn holiday events spark unexpected emergencies

The smoke started to billow creating a thick black cloud across the kitchen ceiling. Emma Popofsky recalled watching the smoke begin to creep down the walls and into other rooms of the house.

“It was terrifying,” she said. “I didn’t know what to do. I don’t think any of us did.

She said she felt herself start heaving as her chronic asthma kicked in. All she could visualize was her best friend’s house slowly start to fall. Popofsky, 23, said she remembered the night of her friend’s holiday party happening really fast. One minute all the appetizers sat perfectly placed on the table. Cocktails were poured and girls were laughing in the dining room. Then the laughter turned to screaming, and the air turned to heat.

“When you’re in a high-stress situation like that,” she said, “your common sense becomes very distant.”

Fire safety tips for the holidays

  1. Blow candles out before bed and never leave them unattended.
  2. Check plugs to make sure they are not overloaded (especially adding Christmas lights and décor).
  3. Make sure all lights meet CSA approval, coloured flood lights should be a safe distance from your tree, turn off tree lights when you go to sleep.
  4. Christmas trees – make sure they are fresh and keep away from heat sources, add two-three litres of water to keep from dying out (trees will dry out after 10-14 days), clear falling needles.
  5. Try to have a fire screen in front of a live fire – keep anything flammable (wrapping paper, tissue paper, ribbon, et cetera) away.
  6. Only burn seasoned dried wood, keep flammable liquids outside and never bear an open flame.
  7. When dealing with a kitchen grease fire – throw baking soda on the flame or smother the fire with the lid of the pot.

Source: Carlo Bernardi, acting captain of Toronto Fire Station 424

Holiday-related fires are not uncommon, according to Carlo Bernardi, acting captain of Station 424 of the Toronto Fire Department. Emergency 911 calls for grease fires, such as the one Popofsky experienced, are among the most common calls the fire department receives. This kind of fire is only second to candles over the holiday season.

“Grease fires are the leading cause of fires in Canada throughout the year,” he said.

Bernardi added emergency calls generally increase over the holidays. Christmas decorations, including lights, candles and trees, if left haphazardly will lead to fires, he said.

“People become more careless due to the mad rush of the holidays,” he said.

Popofsky admitted that she and her friends might not have used common sense preparing for their party.

“We were doing several things at once,” she said. “Putting the finishing touches on that appetizer, seasoning the other…and then it happened. The pot of oil exploded.”

Aside from grease fires, Bernardi said the best way to avoid these holiday-related hazards is to use common sense and not rush.

“Take that extra step and make sure,” he said. “Be careful and watchful.”