Fire safety is a top priority during the holidays and what is likely to be chilly days ahead in winter after the new year, and one local residents need to give more attention to prevent tragedy.

Polk County Public Safety Director Randy Lacey said the volunteer fire department has been kept busy so far this month, and many of the calls for help with burning homes could have been prevented.

“After the snow, we’ve had about 15 to 18 structure fires in the last 2 week period,” Lacey said. “A lot of those — probably 70 to 80 percent of those — have been caused by drop cords plugged up to space heaters.”

The culprit is the amount of voltage being drawn through those drop cords from space heaters, which though they have the UL compliance stickers on the safety labels aren’t designed to carry the amount of electricity being pulled through the wires.

“Basically they’re buying little cheap drop cords and hooking it up to a heavy device it can’t handle, and that is a real problem for not just people in a home, but for my people as well,” Lacey said.

Those drop cords with too much voltage heat up, melt and eventually start fires, Lacey said.

Drop cords and space heaters are probably the biggest threat facing local residents during the holidays, but there are plenty of other threats out there. Live Christmas trees that are allowed to dry out can catch fire, and additional problems can be caused by fireworks being shot at buildings during New Year’s Eve celebrations.

He asks that local residents take safety measures to keep safe.

“We want people to use their best common sense during the holidays and stay safe,” Lacey said. “We don’t want anyone to end up in the emergency room to start off their new year.”

It has already been a busy month beside being called out to fires. During the snow, the department spent numerous hours helping cut away downed trees and branches, among other rescue duties.

Here’s one example of how busy they’ve been: on earlier in the month on Dec. 10, after 9-inches of snow fell on Polk County, volunteer firefighters responded to hundreds of downed power lines and trees, along with nine working structure fires.

One structure fire at 788 Dunn Road was heavily charged with smoke and fire when firefighters arrived. After making an aggressive interior attack, firefighters had to back out until conditions improved.

They then made another interior attack and eventually brought the fire under control.

The structure was extensively damaged, but numerous personal belongings were saved.

All occupants were out of the structure upon arrival and no firefighters were injured.