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Authorities offer suggestions for a safe holiday

Tuesday, December 18, 2001

SIKESTON -- The Christmas season is one of the most festive of the year. It is the time when many decorate their homes, visit family and spread Christmas cheer. However, the holiday season can also be a dangerous one.

One of the highlights for some families over the holidays is decorating the Christmas tree. While the tree can look beautiful, it is also a fire hazard.

One of the biggest dangers of the Christmas tree is having a live tree that is not cared for properly. "Make sure your Christmas trees have plenty of water and if they are dry, don't turn your lights on," said Capt. Joe Sebourn of the Sikeston Department of Public Safety. "Also, try not to run all of your lights off of one outlet."

The Christmas tree is not the only fire hazard over the Christmas season. Many people decorate with candles which should always be put out when leaving the house. It is also important to keep wrapping paper away from open flames, like candles and fireplaces.

Outside lights pose another possible threat. When using outside lights, it is important to use exterior extension cords because they are made to resist the rain and other weather that might be encountered over the holiday season.

Still the threat for fire can never be erased and it is important to check your everyday fire safety components.

"Make sure to check the batteries in your smoke detectors and make sure your fuse boxes are up to date," said Sgt. Steven Palmer of Sikeston DPS. "If you are blowing breakers, have it checked."

Fire is not the only concern over the holidays. The Christmas season is a time to visit family and go shopping which means increased traffic and increased danger on Missouri's highways.

According to the Missouri State Highway Patrol, last year over the Christmas holiday, there were 1,100 traffic crashes. In those crashes, 10 people were killed and another 371 were injured. This year's traffic crash counting period begins at 6 p.m. Dec. 21 and ends at 11:59 p.m. Dec. 25.

The Highway Patrol wants to remind everyone to wear their seat belt and pay attention to their driving while refraining from drinking and driving.

"Additional officers will be on Missouri's roadways," said Col. Roger D. Stottlemyre. "Their focus will be enforcing traffic laws and assisting motorists as needed."

If an emergency happens while on a Missouri roadway, motorists can contact the Highway Patrol at 1-800-525-5555 or *55 on a cellular phone. This emergency number will ring into the nearest Highway Patrol headquarters. Motorists should use this number if they are in a traffic crash, witness a crash or crime or pass a stranded motorist in need of assistance.

While out traveling the danger your home will be broken into also increases. There are a few things which can be done to ensure the safety of your belongings.

"Don't leave your lights on overnight and if you do leave your residence, put the lights on a timer," Palmer said. "Also, make sure the exterior of your residence is well lit."

Palmer said to get acquainted with your neighbors, informing them of when you will be gone and tell them who is supposed to be at your home along with what type vehicle they drive. Any suspicious vehicles should be reported to Sikeston DPS.

Robbery doesn't just happen when you are far away from your home, however. Christmas is a time when many thieves see an opportunity to rob people while they are shopping.

"When shopping, just use good common sense," Sebourn said. "Be sure to lock your car and put things in your trunk instead of the back seat or front seat where they are in view."

Also park in well-lit areas and pay attention to people around you, making sure you are not being followed.