Dangerous Holiday Fire Hazards to Be Aware Of

What's the Deal?

Did you know that between 2012-2016, U.S. fire departments responded to an average 170 home fires that started with Christmas trees per year? Additionally, these fires caused an average of 4 deaths, 15 injuries, and $12 million in direct property damage annually. Yeah, that sounds like a pretty big deal if you ask me. The rest of this article is devoted to recognizing typical holiday fire hazards and how to avoid having your own Christmas fire.

Most Common Holiday Fire Hazards

Here is a list of some of the most common fire hazards to watch out for this holiday season:

Heating up the Room:

As the temperature drops, boilers, fireplaces, radiators, and space heaters are cranked up. According to the NFPA, heating equipment is the second-greatest cause of home fires each year. Remember to keep space heaters at least 3 feet (but preferably in a different room) from items that might easily burn, including upholstery and Christmas trees. 

Additionally, remember to open your damper before lighting your fireplace. And make sure that you use a protective screen or grate in front to keep sparks from escaping.

Kitchen Temperature:

The heart of the home can get chaotic when you're prepping a big family feast. It's easy to become distracted and forget about a simmering pot. Unattended cooking is the No. 1 cause of kitchen fires, says the NFPA, and Thanksgiving is the peak day of the year.The best line of defense is to stay present in the room while you are cooking. Next, be sure to keep clutter to a minimum, and store combustible items, such as towels, plastic or cardboard food containers, and cooking utensils, away from the stove.

The Christmas Tree:

Each year, U.S. fire departments respond to more than 200 home fires involving Christmas trees, says the NFPA. The best way to prevent your tree from going up in smoke is to keep your tree hydrated. Choose the freshest tree possible, and set it up at least 3 feet from any heat source, such as a radiator, space heater, fireplace, or furnace. Be sure to cut the bottom inch or so of your tree's trunk, fill the stand with water as soon as the tree is upright, and refill it daily. You may be surprised to see just how much water the tree "drinks" every day.A new device on the market that might help with tree fire safety is called TreeSafe. This new alarm from Sooner Alarms looks like an ornament so you can hang it directly on your tree. But this “ornament” is also a heat-sensing device that acts as a wireless remote alarm. The system allows homeowners to contain a tree fire before it spreads.

Overpacked Outlets:

Decorative lights give many homes and neighborhoods a festive glow during long winter nights. Just be careful not to overcrowd outlets. Electrical malfunctions, called shorts or arc faults, are the cause of half of all devastating residential fires. Install an Arc-Fault Circuit Interrupter (AFCI) outlet to detect and automatically shut down an arcing circuit.

When using string lights, keep an outlet's total load under 15 amps (the count per string is usually provided on the box of lights). Follow the manufacturer's directions, and replace any strings that are broken or worn out or have loose bulb connections. Always unplug the lights before you go to bed or leave your home.

Candlelight:

Unsurprisingly, the NFPA reports that most home candle fires occur within the month of December. Never use real candles to light up your Christmas tree. Flickering LED candles are just as pretty and a lot easier to deal with! Keep all burning candles at least 1 foot from items that can catch fire.

Flammable Gifts:

Americans traditionally wrap presents in decorative paper. That's okay, but be mindful of how and where you store wrapped gifts. Don't hide gifts at the top of a closet near a light bulb, in a boiler room, or near a heater where they could ignite.

When it's time to open and exchange gifts, keep a trash bag handy to contain all the paper. Don't be tempted to throw it into the roaring fireplace. This poses a flash fire risk!

Holiday Fires by the Numbers

Christmas Trees: 

  • On average, one of every 45 reported home fires that began with a Christmas tree resulted in a death, compared to an average of one death per 139 total reported home fires.
  • Electrical distribution or lighting equipment was involved in 43% of home Christmas tree fires.
  • In one-quarter (27%) of the Christmas tree fires and in 80% of the deaths, some type of heat source, such as a candle or equipment, was too close to the tree.
  • More than one-fifth (22%) of Christmas tree fires were intentional.
  • Forty-two percent of reported home Christmas tree fires occurred in December and 33% were reported in January.
  • Two of every five (40%) home Christmas tree fires started in the living room, family room, or den.

Holiday Decorations:

  • U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 800 home structure fires per year that began with decorations, excluding Christmas trees, in 2012-2016. These fires caused an annual average of two civilian fire deaths, 34 civilian fire injuries and $11 million in direct property damage.
  • Ten percent of decoration fires were intentional.
  • The decoration was too close to a heat source such as a candle or equipment in two of every five (42%) fires.
  • More than one-fifth (21%) of the decoration fires started in the kitchen.
  • Fifteen percent started in the living room, family room or den.One-fifth (19%) of the home decoration fires occurred in December. 

Candles:

  • On average, 23 home candle fires were reported each day between 2012-2016.
  • More than half (56%) of the December home decoration fires were started by candles, compared to one-third (31%) in January to November.
  • The top three days for home candle fires were Christmas, New Year’s Day, and New Year's Eve.

Holiday Cooking:

  • Thanksgiving is the peak day for home cooking fires, followed by Christmas Day and Christmas Eve.
  • Cooking equipment was involved in 20% of home decoration fires. This can happen when a decoration is left on or too close to a stove or other cooking equipment.

Fireworks:

  • Ten percent of fireworks fires occur during the period from December 30 through January 3, with the peak on New Year's Day.

How to Prevent Holiday Fires

No Loose Clothing in the Kitchen:

Avoid wearing loose and hanging clothing when cooking in the kitchen. A sweater, cardigan or shirt sleeve can easily dip onto a burner and start a fire. Also, remember never to move a burning pot as this could escalate an emergency. Stay focused and be aware of your clothing when near an open flame.

Be Aware of the Stovetop:

Anything near the stovetop -- linens, wood, paper towels, etc. -- is a potential fire hazard. Take care to keep anything flammable far away from the stovetop when you're cooking. Also, do your best to keep kids and pets out of the kitchen; it's possible that they could knock something over on the stovetop and cause a fire.

Absolutely Avoid Cooking Fires:

Cooking fires are one of the top causes of holiday home fires. This is why you must pay attention to what you're cooking. A few other tips to consider:

  • Don't increase the temperature to make food cook faster.
  • Always keep the appropriately sized pot lid handy.
  • If a pan fire starts, you can cover it and smother the flames.
  • Never, ever put water on a grease fire.

Choose Candle Placement Wisely:

Candles are a great, natural way to light up your home. However, they are also a common cause of holiday fires. Candles present a particular danger from Christmas to New Year's Day because many people use them on trees, menorahs and dining room tables. To stay safe:

  • Always keep an eye on the candle and put it out if you leave the room.
  • Don't let a candle burn to below two inches past the holder -- put it out.
  • Place candles far away from flammable linens -- curtains, drapes, etc.Keep candles out of reach of children and pets.

Decorate Your Tree Carefully:

Tree decorating is a fun family activity. However, bad lights, frayed electrical cords or other fire hazards put your tree and home in danger. To avoid a fire around the tree:

  • Buy your tree early so you don't end up with a dry tree that's more flammable.
  • If you put the tree up closer to Christmas, cut off the bottom and then place it in at least a half-gallon of water.
  • If you buy an artificial tree, make sure it's fire retardant.
  • Do not put electric lights on metal trees.
  • Make sure your tree is at least three feet away from any heat sources.
  • Check your electrical cords, plugs and decorative lighting for any potential dangers.
  • Position your tree in a sturdy holder so it doesn't fall over.
  • Never use candles on your tree.
  • Unplug the lights before you leave the house or go to bed. Or put them on an automatic timer.

Clean Your Chimney:

Fireplaces are great assembly areas for family and friends, but forgetting to open the damper or clean out the ash increases the risk of fire. Make sure you have a chimney cleaning professional clean your chimney once a year. Generally, the cost of chimney cleaning averages about $210. A professional can sweep out the ashes and clean out any flammable creosote. You should also have a screen or door in front of a fire to prevent hot wood and sparks from escaping. Keep children and pets at least three feet away from an active fire.

Prepare for Cold Weather:

To keep your home warm and comfortable during the cold season and ensure optimal warmth without fire:

  • Have your furnace inspected.
  • Keep flammable items at least four feet away from your heating system.
  • Do not use an oven to warm the home.
  • Keep a working fire extinguisher near the heat sources on every floor of your home.

Conclusion

The holiday season is a wonderful time of the year, but can also be a very dangerous time for your home. Being safe does not mean you cannot enjoy the season. Make sure to always consider the fire risk when decorating your home or tree. Never let your kitchen become overcrowded and avoid open fires. And that is it, keep these things in mind and you will have a wonderful and safe holiday season.

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Tyler Farr
 

Tyler is an energetic nature enthusiast who is currently considering moving into a tiny house. Tyler and his wife enjoy hiking, mountain biking, camping, and doing anything in the great outdoors. He hopes that the articles he writes will help others learn how important it is to take care of the environment.

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