Festive decorations are hallmarks of the holiday season, but according to the nonprofit National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), they also play a role in many U.S. home fires during this time of year. Fires involving Christmas trees, decorative lights, as well as those associated with holiday activities like cooking and candle usage, significantly contribute to seasonal fire rates as well.
For resources and information about holiday fire safety, including audio clips, videos and safety sheets, visit NFPA’s Web site at www.nfpa.org/holiday.
“It’s easy to understand that many holiday traditions have the potential to put us at an increased risk for fire, and during the holidays it can be especially challenging to keep fire safety in mind with many other things competing for our attention,“ said Lorraine Carli, NFPA’s vice president of communications. “By understanding where holiday fire hazards exist, and taking some simple preventative steps to avoid them, people can greatly reduce their risk to fire and keep everyone in good cheer.”
Christmas Trees: U.S. fire departments annually respond to 250 home structure fires caused by Christmas trees. Nearly half of them are caused by electrical problems, and one in four resulted from a heat source that’s too close to the tree. Here are some guidelines for picking, placing and lighting a tree:
· If you have an artificial tree, be sure it’s labeled, certified or identified by the manufacturer as fire-retardant.
· If you choose a fresh tree, make sure the green needles don’t fall off when touched; before placing it in the stand, cut 1-2 inches from the base of the trunk. Add water to the tree stand, and be sure to water it daily.
· Make sure the tree is not blocking an exit, and is at least three feet away from any heat source, like fireplaces, space heaters, radiators, candles and heat vents or lights.
· Use lights that have the label of an independent testing laboratory, and make sure you know whether they are designed for indoor or outdoor use.
· Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords, or loose bulb connections. Connect no more than three strands of mini-string sets and a maximum of 50 bulbs for screw-in bulbs.
· Never use lit candles to decorate the tree.
· Always turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving the home or going to bed.
· After Christmas, get rid of the tree. Dried-out trees are a fire hazard and should not be left in the home or garage, or placed outside the home.
· Bring outdoor electrical lights inside after the holidays to prevent hazards and make them last longer.
Cooking: According to NFPA, unattended cooking is the leading cause of U.S. home fires and home fire injuries. Stay in the kitchen while you’re frying, grilling or broiling food. As most cooking fires involve the stovetop, keep anything that can catch fire away from it, and turn off the stove when you leave the kitchen, even if it’s for a short period of time. If you’re simmering, boiling, baking or roasting food, check it regularly and use a timer to remind you that you’re cooking. For homes with children, create a “kid-free zone” of at least three feet around the stove and areas where hot food and drinks are prepared or carried.
Candles: Candles are widely used in homes throughout the holidays, and December is the peak month for home candle fires. NFPA statistics show more than half of all candle fires start because the candle was too close to things that could catch fire. Consider using flameless candles, which look and smell like real candles. However, if you do use traditional candles, keep them at least 12 inches away from anything that can burn, and remember to blow them out when you leave the room or go to bed. Use candle holders that are sturdy, won’t tip over and are placed on uncluttered surfaces. Avoid using candles in the bedroom where two of five U.S. candle fires begin or other areas where people may fall asleep. Lastly, never leave a child alone in a room with a burning candle.