Fire departments across the United States respond to an estimated average of 240 Christmas tree fires each year; holiday lights and lighted decorations are to blame for another 150 house fires. Combined, these fires are responsible for over $25 million in property damages, and tragically, nearly two dozen deaths. Homeowners and apartment dwellers, particularly those with children and pets, need to be alert to the hazards that can lead to the holiday glow going up in flames.
In the Kitchen
Kitchen fires, by far, are the leading cause of residential fires throughout the year. Around the holidays, this danger increases with increased cooking and baking for holiday festivities. Unattended food, especially food frying on a stovetop, is the leading cause of cooking fires. Cooks should resist the temptation to leave the kitchen while preparing meals. It only takes a few seconds for the hot oil to ignite. Pot handles should be turned inward so they do not hang over the edge of a stovetop where children can reach them, or passing adults can knock them to the floor. Take care to keep the cords of small appliances out of reach of children and pets. Anything flammable, potholders, dishtowels, food packaging, should not be near the heat, and children should be kept three feet away from hot ovens and stoves.
It only takes 30 seconds for flames to fully engulf a Christmas tree with dry needles. To ensure you are purchasing a fresh-cut tree, look for dark green needles that are not easily pulled back from the branch. The butt of the tree trunk should be slightly sticky. Bounce the tree a few times on the ground. If you are showered with falling needles, take a pass on that tree. Once home, maintain the tree’s moisture by keeping the tree stand filled with water.
Wrap a tree skirt around the tree stand to discourage pets from using it as a water dish. Set the tree up at least one foot away from heat sources such as wood stoves, fireplaces, and heater vents, and keep the tree away from areas where playing children might knock it over. A toppled tree not only damages your holiday decor, but sparks may also fly when the tree lights are abruptly pulled from outlets. Do not keep alive, cut the tree in the house for more than two weeks.
Inspect strings of Christmas lights for broken bulbs and worn wires. LED lights are a good choice for homes with children. The plastic bulbs are shatterproof and do not become hot like traditional bulbs. Purchase lights that are Underwriters’ Laboratories (UL) approved for safety, and do not overload outlets with too many strings of lights. Once you have set up your lights, periodically check extension cords and light strings, they should not be warm. Select flame retardant ornaments and decorations.
Consider using flameless candles if candlelight is part of your holiday decorating scheme. They flicker like wax candles and are available in an assortment of scents. Some even come with remote controls. If you do choose traditional candles, keep them, along with the matches and lighters, away from children. Securely seat candles in sturdy holders and extinguish them when leaving the room. Make sure to keep candles at least one foot away from curtains and other combustibles.
Should a fire flare-up in your home, the safest course is to get everyone out of the house and call for help from a safe distance. Most home fire injuries occur when the homeowners attempt to extinguish a blaze themselves.