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Coordinator of college’s Fire Science program offers safety tips for season

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. – (Nov. 28, 2005) – Anyone who thinks the issue of holiday fire safety is blown out of proportion should consider this: A fire that starts with a Christmas tree is eight times more likely to kill you than a fire starting any other way.

“A tree should never be kept up more than two weeks,” says Richard Dienst, coordinator of the fire science program at Tidewater Community College. “And if it’s dry, get rid of it right away.”

The dollar value of material loss with Christmas tree fires is three times higher than with other fires, Dienst says. That’s why it’s crucial to check the water in your tree stand daily, and never burn the branches or needles in a fireplace. For further proof that Christmas trees are a serious fire risk, visit and watch a tree fire take out an entire room in 48 seconds.

With 80 percent of all fires occurring in homes, Dienst says it’s no surprise that fires peak during the holiday season. More people are home from work, children are out of school, fireplace use increases, and more cooking occurs – all of which can be a deadly combination.

Christmas trees are the biggest seasonal culprits, but candles aren’t far behind. The number of fires started by candles jumps fourfold over the holidays. If you can’t live without lighting them, Dienst recommends keeping them under glass and, of course, away from anything flammable.

Greater use of extension cords is part of the problem, too. “They’re really for extending the cord of an electrical appliance,” he explains, “not for increasing the number of appliances that can run off one outlet.”

The fire risk occurs, Dienst says, when the amount of electricity flowing through an extension cord exceeds what the cord can handle. It can’t dissipate the heat fast enough, so its insulation starts to break down. Worse is running the overloaded cord under a rug or carpet – then the heat has nowhere to go.

Combine the holidays with cold weather and fire hazards abound. About 37 percent of all fires happen in winter, with heating appliances – from space heaters to fireplaces – the number-one cause. That’s followed by careless and unattended cooking, the top cause of injuries during a fire. Next are careless smoking and children playing with matches.

But the easiest way to prevent fires all year long, says Dienst, is with a working smoke detector. Statistics bear this out: two-thirds of all residential fires occur in homes without working smoke detectors.

So when making a holiday shopping list, remember, “batteries not included” doesn’t just apply to toys.



Laurie White
Media Relations

Tidewater Community College is the second largest of the 23 community colleges in the Commonwealth of Virginia, enrolling more than 36,000 students annually. The 37th largest in the nation’s 1,600 community-college network, TCC ranks among the 50 fastest-growing large community colleges. Founded in 1968 as a part of the Virginia Community College System, the college serves the South Hampton Roads region with campuses in Chesapeake, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Virginia Beach as well as the TCC Jeanne and George Roper Performing Arts Center in the theater district in downtown Norfolk, the Visual Arts Center in Olde Towne Portsmouth and a regional Advanced Technology Center in Virginia Beach. Forty-four percent of the region’s residents attending a college or university in Virginia last fall were enrolled at TCC. For more information, visit