Holiday house fires: What you need to know to stay safe

How to avoid holiday house firesAccording to the American Red Cross, nearly 47,000 fires occur during the winter holidays. And the results are devastating: The fires claim more than 500 lives, cause more than 2,200 injuries, and cost $554 million in property damage. Why the peak this time of year? The blame lies mostly on Christmas trees, holiday lights and candles.

When Christmas trees catch on fire, they turn into a huge pile of kindling (just think of all that wood!). As a result, the fire can spread through a room and home incredibly fast. Some Christmas tree fires are caused by having the tree too close to a heat source, but one of every three is caused by electrical problems, like poorly wired lights strung on it.

The other big culprit is candles—fires caused by them are four times as likely to occur during the winter holidays than at any other time of year. Most occur because flammable objects were left too close to the flame, while the U.S. Fire Administration reports that one out of five candle fires are due to lit candles being left unattended.

The main thing you need to do is make sure your smoke alarms are working properly. According to the Red Cross, working smoke alarms reduce the chance of dying in a fire by nearly half. Their suggestions: Install a smoke alarm near your kitchen, on each level of your home, near sleeping areas and inside and outside bedrooms if you sleep with doors closed. Use the test button to check it each month and replace all batteries at least once a year. They also encourage Christmas trees, candles and other holiday decorations be at least three feet away from heat sources like fireplaces, portable heaters, radiators, heat vents and candles.

Other ways to reduce your risk:

  • Purchase a flame-retardant metallic or artificial tree.
  • If you have a real tree, be sure to water it regularly to avoid drying it out and use a sturdy tree stand designed not to tip over.
  • Turn off and unplug tree and house lights before leaving home or going to bed.
  • Make sure you know if your lights are intended for indoor or outdoor use and only use them as instructed.
  • Do not use any damaged light sets. Check lights for broken or loose sockets and frayed wires and replace lights that have loose bulbs and worn cords.
  • Extension cords should run along walls and not under rugs. No more than three light sets should be used per extension cord.
  • Avoid hanging lights near fire hazards like loose paper and other flammable materials.
  • Use battery-operated or electric flameless candles, which can look and smell like the real deal.
  • If you do use real candles, place them in metal, glass or ceramic holders on a sturdy surface, out of reach from children and pets.
  • Do not leave burning candles unattended. Extinguish candles before leaving home (or heading to another floor) and before going to bed.
  • Keep candles at least 12 inches from flammable items like furniture, curtains and garland and never put them on a Christmas tree. Candles also shouldn’t go in windows, where blinds and curtains can catch on fire.
  • Keep matches and lighters away from children.  Be sure matches are out before placing in the garbage by running them under water.


Photo credit: Gregory Jordan

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