A crackling fire can be lovely, especially during the holiday season, but keep fire safety in mind.


“Festive celebrations, flickering lights and winter greens are hallmarks of the holiday season, but they also present fire risks that can quickly turn this festive time of year into a devastating one,” the National Fire Protection Association states on its website. There are many important tips for keeping homes safe during the holidays, but there are also things we can do year-round to keep our houses and families safer. “When it comes to safety and security, the average person tends to forget how important fire prevention is,” Enelly Betancourt wrote for La Voz Lancaster and LancasterOnline last month.

We want Christmas and other holidays this season to be safe and happy for all. It should be a time of joy, giving and thankfulness, spent with family and friends.

With that in mind, we should take a few moments to think about simple things we can do to reduce the potential for tragedy around our homes. A little effort and diligence can make all the difference.

First, we should stress some crucial general points.

“The three leading causes of fires are men, women and children,” Fire Marshall David Longenecker, with the Lancaster City Bureau of Fire, told Betancourt. “Fires in residential settings can usually be traced back to the behavior of human beings.”

We need to be more careful in the kitchen. Unattended cooking is one of the leading causes of fire. Always stay in the kitchen while frying, grilling, boiling or broiling food.

“If people would pay close attention to what they are doing in the kitchen, the fires would either not start or would at least not progress to the point where the fire department would have to intervene,” Longenecker said.

The second leading cause of home fires involves heating.

Space heaters, especially older models, should be treated very carefully. Furnaces and chimneys should be cleaned and inspected every year. All fireplaces should have a sturdy screen. Allow ashes to cool completely — they can remain hot for much longer than we think — before discarding them. Use a metal container for ash disposal.

“The key to preventing heating fires is keeping everything at least 3 feet away from heaters, wood stoves, fireplaces, radiators, furnaces and water heaters,” Longenecker told Betancourt. “People don’t take into account that the heat will build up over time to the point where things become combustible material.”

Here are some fire safety tips from the National Fire Protection Association that are specific to the holiday season:

— Use decorations that are flame-resistant or flame-retardant.

— Keep lit candles away from anything flammable. (The top three days for candle fires in the home are Christmas, New Year’s Day and Christmas Eve.)

— Fully blow out lit candles when you leave a room or go to bed. Also, turn off all light strings or electric decorations before leaving the house or going to bed.

— Replace any string of lights that has worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections.

— Make sure Christmas trees are at least 3 feet from any heat source. Avoid or get rid of trees that are dry.

We want everyone to have a wonderful holiday season, and that requires paying particular attention to fire safety.

So, here’s one last safety tip: The holidays are a great occasion to test all smoke alarms.

Important message

Time’s choice of teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg as its 2019 Person of the Year honoree reminds us of what we must prioritize and strive to accomplish in 2020.

One year ago, we wrote: “We’re at a turning point. In light of the overwhelming scientific evidence, we must urge our leaders to enact and support sweeping and immediate initiatives to counteract the man-made aspects of climate change. We, as individual citizens, must be examples and leaders, too. We must change our consumption habits, pivot toward renewable energy and be willing to make inconvenient adjustments to our fossil-fueled lifestyles.”

Twelve months later, we haven’t done nearly enough.

Here’s a short list of what we’d like to see in 2020:

Progress on Gov. Tom Wolf’s efforts to bring Pennsylvania into a regional consortium that would establish prices and caps on greenhouse gas emissions from our power plants.

Legislation in Harrisburg that supports and advances Wolf’s executive order calling for the state to achieve a 26% reduction of net greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 and an 80% reduction of net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

— Support for the “Zero Waste PA” package of bills in the state House that is aimed at addressing single-use plastics, litter and the environmental harms caused by our throwaway society. Small measures can add up.

— Nationally, we want our lawmakers in Washington to debate and consider the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act and the Green New Deal. They are not perfect proposals, but they are serious attempts to start needed dialogue about our urgent climate crisis.

Lancaster County teens have joined Thunberg in calling for action to address the climate crisis. We need to listen to their voices.