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KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — A fire that caused about $10,000 in damage to a Stearley Heights home Sunday morning likely was caused by holiday decorations, according to preliminary findings of an investigation into its cause.

The fire probably started when holiday decorations hung over a bookshelf short-circuited or otherwise malfunctioned, said Staff Sgt. Corey Coleman, fire inspector for the Kadena Fire Prevention and Education Office.

No one was home when 15 firefighters and three medics arrived at the home on a Stearley Heights cul-de- sac at 1:35 a.m. Sunday, after receiving a call from a neighbor who had smelled smoke.

“For a small fire, the amount of heavy smoke damage amazed everyone out there,” Coleman said.

Almost everything inside the house is coated with black soot, said Coleman and resident Kenneth McKay, a lawyer with the 18th Wing legal office. When the fire happened, McKay was in the Tokyo area with his children while serving in his role as an Air Force reserve lieutenant colonel. His wife relayed the details after she came home to the destruction.

Part of the reason for the extensive smoke damage was because none of the windows were open, trapping the soot inside, Coleman said. However, this also deprived the fire of oxygen, limiting the blaze.

“If my wife had cracked open a window, it probably would have wiped out the whole house,” McKay said.

The family’s pet cat died from smoke inhalation, he said.

McKay said the wooden bookshelf decorated with the Christmas lights was used as a shoe rack near the home’s entryway. The family also kept a Virgin Mary statue, some Okinawan handicrafts and two candles on top of the shelf.

The candles probably were unlit, McKay said. The family used a rug decorated with the 50 states to cover the shoes. McKay speculated that the rug probably caught fire when the Christmas lights malfunctioned.

He said he did not recall the Christmas lights’ exact age but they probably were bought at the base exchange over the years.

Although coping with the fire’s aftermath has been difficult, McKay said, the family’s neighbors have been very supportive.

“They’ve been washing things, and they’ve been very willing to pitch in,” he said.

The housing office also is being helpful in relocating the family, McKay said.

Holiday fire safety tips

Fires resulting from decorations are an unfortunate part of the holiday season, says Staff Sgt. Corey Coleman, fire inspector for the Kadena Fire Prevention and Education Office.

While traveling around Kadena Air Base, Coleman said he has seen multiple examples of unsafe decorations this month.

The most common unsafe practice he sees is too many stands of lights on Christmas trees. The fire prevention office recommends no more than three strands of lights.

“Once you go past three, they’re starting to overload and could possibly blow a fuse,” Coleman said.

Coleman also recommends the following:

Use only holiday lights approved by Underwriters Laboratory. These lights have a “UL” symbol on the package.Cut the bottom inch off of live trees and keep them in water. This prevents them from drying and makes them less flammable.Do not run lights through doors and windows.Do not leave lights in contact with presents.Keep candles at least one foot away from anything combustible and put out candles when no one is home.— Erik Slavin

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