San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Fires

Firefighters urge public to be cautious as dry season kicks off

As windy and chilly weather – typical of the dry season – comes to Costa Rica this week, firefighters are also reminding the public that it’s fire season. Firefighters this week urged residents to take precautions as more fires occur during the dry season than at any other time of the year.

Over-the-top Christmas trees and decorations, faulty electrical systems, fireworks, and an increase in barbeques and outdoor cooking are some of the factors that lead to a 10 percent increase on average of fires during the dry season from December to April, Fire Department Director Héctor Chaves said.

“The peak in structural fires in the country occurs from March to April. Numbers begin to decrease in May and increase again in December,” he said.

Structural fires in December 2013 increased by 4 percent compared to 2012. In January 2013 they increased by 8.4 percent, and in February 2013, 53.7 percent.

Firefighters reported that faulty electrical systems are the leading cause — 35 percent — of house fires during the holiday season. Residents should avoid overloading power strips and outlets with multiple connections.

Firefighters also recommend buying only certified safety lights that display the UL symbol, and carefully checking lights from previous years to verify there are no exposed wires or other damage.

Nativity scenes are another frequent cause of fires as many people decorate them with dried plants, moss, paper mâché and other inflammable materials.

In order to save electricity, many Ticos prepare tamales, roasts and other meals with open fires close to walls, ceilings, trees or other fire hazards.

“Open fires should only be lit in open spaces and far from any of those areas. People also have to be careful with scented candles, which are popular during the holidays,” Chaves added.

Fireworks and firecrackers also are a concern. One of the main problems is the use of illegal — and cheaper — fireworks that do not meet minimum safety requirements or quality standards and can cause severe injuries, particularly to young people.

The National Children’s Hospital reported that 410 children were burned in 2013, and 70 percent were 4 years old or younger.

“We call on the public to be alert and prevent incidents during the holidays. We also ask families to keep a watch at home so that this time of joy doesn’t turn into a time of sadness,” Chaves said.

Contact L. Arias at larias@ticotimes.net

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