PARKERSBURG - After the last of the ham is stored in the refrigerator and family members begin to head home, local residents may be unaware of a Grinch out to steal those new holiday gadgets or toys.
Local officials offer advice on how to stay safe after the Christmas presents are unwrapped, and not becoming vulnerable to thieves.
"In too many cases, residents unknowingly make it easy for criminals to figure out which homes to target by putting boxes on the curb," said Sgt. Greg Collins with the Parkersburg Police Department. "That advertises their new gifts in plain view."
Collins said people can avoid being an easy target by not leaving those empty boxes in plain sight and instead concealing them in trash bags or cans.
The best idea may be to personally take all boxes with writing on them to a local recycling location, he said. Criminals know that many households have new and often expensive items after the December holidays. Making those items less visible to the public is one way to ensure the safety and security of any new gifts, said Collins.
"If you see someone suspicious on your street or in your alley, call 911," he said. "Try to provide a good clothing description and a direction of travel."
If strangers come lurking in the doorway, or even knock, Collins said to be extra cautious of their motives.
"Criminals sometimes pretend they are lost or accidentally at the wrong residence, all in an effort to get a closer look at your home," he said. "Ask for identification if you are concerned about the legitimacy of the individual."
Another trend to watch out for is solicitors.
"If they are soliciting charitable funds, ask how the funds will be used," said Collins. "If you aren't satisfied, don't give."
According to research conducted by the National Fire Protection Association, Christmas tree fires between 2005 and 2009 resulted in 13 deaths, 27 injuries and $16.7 million in direct property damage. The association found that 18 percent of home fires at Christmas occurred when the homeowners were burning the Christmas tree outside after the holiday.
Parkersburg Fire Department officials advise residents to discard Christmas tress by letting the city's sanitation department pick them up for proper disposal.
"We do not recommend burning the trees," said chief inspector Capt. Tim Flinn. "You may also have the trees recycled."
Fire-related calls over the holiday season usually involve overloading electrical systems, carbon monoxide alarms and fires from candles, said Flinn.
"Keep storage of combustibles a safe distance from heating devices," Flinn advised residents.
Officials said falls are a problem in removing lights from a home. Studies found that just over 5,000 people a year were treated in hospital emergency rooms across the nation for falls associated with holiday decorations from November to January.
Residents should take precautions when removing decorations, said Flinn.
"Consider weather conditions such as rain, snow, ice and wind," he said. "If using a ladder, additional help would be strongly recommended and should be placed on a level or stable surface."
Flinn said the most common types of personal injury calls for firefighters are sprains, strains and falls.
"The most common calls we received this time of the year for medical attention are stress-related calls from the holidays," said Flinn.
The Parkersburg Fire Department reminds everyone to check their smoke and carbon monoxide batteries before hosting family parties and starting in on the holiday festivities.
Do not hesitate to call 911 for any emergency, but for non-emergency issues contact your local fire, law enforcement or EMS agency, officials said.