Holiday fire prevention tips
We expect winter holidays to be merry and bright; crackling fires are part of our holiday lore. Even our most famous seasonal poem says, “The stockings were hung by the chimney with care.” (Incidentally, hanging stockings by a fire is not a good idea.) So while fire is a cherished part of seasonal activities, make sure to keep it in its place.
Keep an eye on the kitchen
There are lots of jokes about holiday leftovers, including the infamous flaming turkey wings. But catastrophically overdone turkeys are closer to the truth than you might think: the top four days for major kitchen fires are Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, Christmas Eve, and Thanksgiving Eve. The biggest contributing factor by far? Leaving the cooking area unattended. Don’t leave the kitchen if you are frying or broiling food, and check in regularly if you are simmering, baking, or roasting food. Finally, don’t leave food cooking if you plan to nap. About one-third of fatal kitchen fires begin when people are asleep.
Keep candles away from the decorations
You should spot a trend here: the top three days for candle-caused home fires are Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, and New Year’s Eve. The most common cause? Candles placed too close to flammable decorations, curtains, bedding, and furniture. Don’t be fooled by cozy photos of candles burning inside wreaths or holiday displays — the reality is that the flames are too close to flammable material (and you can bet the photographer has a fire extinguisher handy).
- Never leave lit candles unattended.
- Never fall asleep when candles are lit.
- Don’t place the candles close to the curtains, Christmas trees, wreaths, or other flammable items.
- Keep candles out of pets’ reach — a curious paw or a wagging tail can knock over a lit candle and wreak havoc.
Keep your Christmas tree watered, lit safely, and away from heat sources
Part of the charm of a natural Christmas tree is the wonderful smell. But one of the drawbacks is the tree’s resin. It’s highly flammable — and the drier the tree gets, the higher the hazard. Check out this video from the National Fire Protection Association to see just how fast a dry Christmas tree can catch fire and burn.
If you are buying a live Christmas tree:
- Make sure to purchase one that has green, firmly attached needles; any exposed resin should feel sticky.
- Cut about two inches from the bottom before placing it in water; the newly exposed wood will absorb water more easily.
- Place it a minimum of three feet away from radiators, heat vents, candles, etc. Make sure it’s even farther away from fireplaces, wood stoves, and space heaters.
- Water the tree daily.
Use safe electrical practices
According to the National Fire Protection Association, 43% of Christmas tree fires involved issues with either electrical or lighting equipment.
- Make sure you don’t overload your electrical outlets, and check the lights very carefully before you use them. Malfunctions can overheat the wires, make sparks, and cause them to flare and cause small fires. All of these can ignite both real and artificial trees.
- Are the lights worn, frayed, or kinked? Do they have broken sockets? Are the bulb connections loose? If so, replace the lights. Ideally, your lights should have a label that indicates they were tested by an independent laboratory, such as UL.
- If your tree is artificial and pre-lit, ensure it has a label indicating is was tested by an independent laboratory. The tag indicates that the tree and lights were tested for hazards related to fire and electrical shock.
- Check the manufacturer’s information about lights – some are only for indoor or outdoor use.
- Make sure to keep the light cords away from the water in the tree stand.
- Always unplug the tree before you go to bed.
The holidays are a hectic time. Navigating them safely takes just a bit of extra consideration, but it’s well worth the time.
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