Fire Safety Officer Christy Glass told the BannerGraphic that residents living in rural areas are more likely to fall victim to a house fire because of the way they heat their homes.
While more homes in the city have central heating and access to natural gas, houses in rural areas, away from city services, tend to rely on other methods of heating, such as wood-burning stoves and space heaters.
They represent the second leading cause of all residential fires, behind cooking fires, Glass said.
Furthermore, Glass said there are an average of 48,300 heating-related fires in residential structures in the United States each year, which is responsible for 320 fire deaths, 1,300 injuries and $450 million in property losses annually.
Statistics like these have fire officials stressing the importance of fire safety, especially with the Christmas and holiday season upon us.
Glass said there are a number of ways to prevent Christmas tree and related fires. They include:
* Making sure needles on live trees are green and hard to pull back from the branches. Needles should not break off if the tree is freshly cut. The trunk should be sticky to the touch. To test the tree's dryness, especially when buying a pre-cut tree from a sale lot, bounce it up and down on the ground a few times. If a lot of needles fall out, it is probably too dry and could present a fire hazard, Glass said.
* Trees should not be placed near a heat source such as a fireplace or a heat vent. The heat will speed up the drying process and increase the risk of fire. Glass suggests trees should be left up for no longer than two weeks and the tree stand should be filled with water at all times.
* When disposing of a live tree, never incinerate the branches in a fireplace or wood-burning stove. Trees can be recycled for free at the Greencastle Yard Waste Recycling Center, located next to the Putnam County Highway Department.
Glass said safety doesn't only apply to trees, but to other holiday-related items such as Christmas lights. In order to prevent electrical fires, lights should be inspected to make sure the insulation isn't broken or cracked or there is excessive kinking or wear, Glass said.
Care should also be taken to prevent circuits from being overloaded with too many lights.
"Do not link more than three light strands, unless the directions indicate it is safe," Glass said. "Connect strings of lights to an extension cord before plugging the cord into the outlet. Make sure to periodically check the wires -- they should not be warm to the touch."
As a final word of warning, Glass suggests that only nonflammable decorations be used.
Further, wrapping paper should not be burned in fireplaces because they release dangerous sparks and can lead to an excessive build-up of chemicals inside the chimney, which can have explosive consequences, she said.
"If you are using a metallic or artificial tree, make sure it is flame retardant," Glass said. "Never put lit candles in a tree."
The Greencastle Fire Department provides free smoke detectors to anyone who needs them. Stop by the fire department, located one block south of the courthouse on Indiana Street, to pick one up.