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It was an unusual — but a very timely — wake up call.

Recently, some local residents were asleep when flames caused a doorbell to short out.

The doorbell began ringing — waking people in the house and alerting them to a fire.

A Fremont Fire Department report states that an outside outlet by the front door was overloaded and that the fire may have been caused by Christmas lights on the front of the house.

So with the holiday season in progress, local firefighters are warning the public to be cautious to prevent fire and electrical hazards.

No injuries were reported in the recent fire and occupants of the house had extinguished the blaze with water from kitchen sink by the time firefighters arrived, said Rick Schutt, a firefighter and paramedic.

But the situation could have been worse.

“If the doorbell hadn’t shorted out and was ringing inside — waking up the occupants — the fire could have been more serious,” said Fire Chief Todd Bernt.

Schutt said the occupants were powering all their exterior Christmas lighting off a three-way adapter plug.

The lights were an older-style type which draws more power than the newer LED lights.

“I think part of the issue here was they were a little bit older lights that were drawing quite a bit of power and everything was coming off one circuit,” Schutt said.

At least one of the cords was coiled and one cord, which was stuffed behind the siding, was going to the roof.

“That’s an issue when they start getting too hot,” he said.

The doorbell, which was in that same exterior wall down from the plug in, started to short out once the fire started.

Schutt said there was damage to exterior siding of the house, but none inside.

With this situation in mind, Schutt and other firefighters, businesses and agencies have these holiday safety tips:

  • Only buy lights, electrical decorations and extension cords that are UL-listed.
  • Inspect extension cords for any possible damage. Make sure there are no cuts or exposed bare wires. Don’t pinch cords against walls or furniture.
  • Don’t coil an extension cord or throw a mat or rug over the top. Don’t run the cords across doorways. Cords under rugs can overheat, especially when the wires inside begin to break down because people have been stepping on them.
  • If you plan to decorate outdoors, make sure to use lights and decorations rated for outdoor use and which are weatherproof.
  • When hanging Christmas lights, reduce the risk of electrical shock by not using a metal ladder.
  • Turn off lights and decorations before going to bed.
  • Every so often, check Christmas light wires to make sure they’re not warm to the touch.
  • Don’t overload a power strip. “Don’t plug in a space heater with a bunch of other stuff,” Schutt said. Don’t overload wiring by plugging more than one heat-producing appliance into the same outlet or circuit.
  • Purchase a space heater that will shut off automatically if it is tipped over. Without this feature, a space heater that gets knocked over could get too hot, short out and create a fire hazard.
  • Keep space heaters a safe distance from things that could catch on fire.
  • Keep children and pets away from space heaters, which could pose a fire hazard or burn them.
  • Make sure you have working smoke detectors.

Be aware of unusual conditions. Spot electrical problems before they start a fire, Schutt said. Some things to watch for include:

Recurring problems with blowing fuses or tripping breakers.

  • “Make sure if you do replace a fuse or a breaker that you’re putting the same size breaker in that circuit,” Schutt said. “We don’t want to be putting bigger breakers in to prevent them from tripping. They’re tripping because something is wrong.”

Discolored wall outlets.

  • “If there’s any black on the outlet or above it that could indicate something’s getting hot and shorting out,” Schutt said.

Burning smell.

  • “Anytime you have a burning smell or a rubbery odor coming from an appliance or anything that’s plugged in watch for that warning sign,” he said.

When buying a natural, live Christmas tree:

  • Buy a freshly cut tree. Don’t buy a tree with brittle or shedding needles.
  • When you get the tree home make a clean cut across the base of the trunk that allows it to take up water, keeping it fresh. “When they dry out, that’s when they pose a pretty significant fire hazard,” Schutt said.
  • Keep the tree in a sturdy, non-tip tree stand that can hold at least one gallon of water. “Trees can take up to a gallon or more of water each day, so it’s important to check it at least once a day,” Schutt said. “Once your tree stops absorbing water, it will dry up and become a fire hazard so at that time, it’s important to discard the tree.”

Regarding artificial trees:

  • Keep them away from heat sources such as heat vents, fireplaces, space heaters and candles.
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News Editor

Tammy Real-McKeighan is news editor of the Fremont Tribune. She covers news, features, religion stories and writes the weekly faith-based, Spiritual Spinach column.

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