Dear Abby: Please help California's public hospitals and firefighters by spreading a winter safety message that can help your readers prevent serious injury, disfigurement and death. Every winter we see house fires and burns caused by candles, fireplaces and space heaters, which are often used to heat or light homes during the cold, dark days of winter.
Children are at particular risk. Our hospitals' burn centers say that at least one-third of their patients are under the age of 4. We all know children are curious and will touch just about anything that catches their eye, but very young children don't have the reflexes to remove their hand quickly when they touch something hot. That's why we urge parents of young children to be especially vigilant throughout the winter months.
Christmas trees also become increasingly hazardous after the holidays, when people wait too long to dispose of trees that have dried out and become more flammable. -- Melissa Stafford Jones, California Association of Public Hospitals, and Kevin Nida, California State Firefighters' Association
Dear Melissa and Kevin: I'm pleased to help remind my readers about the danger of burns in winter, and your warning that the longer Christmas trees are kept, the more easily they ignite.
After reading your letter, I spoke with Capt. Steve Ruda, public information officer for the Los Angeles Fire Department, who pointed out that putting up a Christmas tree early increases the chances of a fire hazard. (Trees that are sold "freshly cut" are actually cut down in October.) He suggests that a good time to consider taking the tree down is when you touch it and the needles fall off easily.
Readers, search online for more safety tips, in both English and Spanish, at www.caph.org or www.csfa.net. They're offered as public service messages from both of the above associations.