Don’t let holidays go up in flames
The holiday season represents a time for family festivities and good cheer but few consider that it is the time when there is an increased risk of home fires. According to Garland Fire Department, many households engage in holiday activities that serve as some of the leading causes of U.S. home fires, including cooking. Christmas trees, candle usage and holiday decorations also significantly contribute to the seasonal causes of home fires. Add to that the hectic nature of the holidays, when people are trying to accomplish multiple tasks at one time, and the chance for home fires grows even more.
“As everyone gets busier during the holidays, we often become rushed, distracted or tired,” Kristi Shepherd, public educator of GFD said. “That’s when home fires are more likely to occur.”
With added awareness and minor adjustments to holiday cooking and decorating, the season can remain festive and safe for everybody.
“By taking some preventative steps and following simple rules of thumb, most home fires can be prevented,” Shepherd said.
With unattended cooking as the leading cause of U.S. home fires and injuries, Shepherd says to stay in the kitchen while frying, grilling or broiling food. Most cooking fires involve the stovetop, so 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 time. If simmering, boiling, baking or roasting food, check it regularly and use a timer to remind you that you’re cooking. GFD also suggests creating a “kid-free zone” of at least three feet around stove and areas where hot food and drinks are prepared or carried.
Candles are widely used in homes throughout the holidays, and December is the peak month for home candle fires. The National Fire Protection Association’s statistics show that two of five home decoration fires are started by candles. GFD encourages residents to consider using flameless candles, which look and smell like real candles. If you use traditional candles, keep them at least 12” away from anything that can burn and remember to blow them out when you leave the room or go to bed. Use sturdy candle holders that won’t tip over and are placed on uncluttered surfaces. Avoid using candles in the bedroom where one-third of U.S. candle fires begin. Never leave a child alone in a room with a burning candle.
According to NFPA, U.S. fire departments respond to 230 home structure fires caused by Christmas trees each year. One of three of them is caused by electrical problems, and one in five resulted from a heat source that’s too close to the tree. Follow these tips for picking, placing and lighting the tree:
- Be sure artificial trees are labeled, certified or identified by manufacturer as fire-retardant.
- For fresh trees, make sure the green needles don’t fall off when touched; before placing in stand, cut 1-2” from the base of the trunk. Add water to tree stand and 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 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 holidays to prevent hazards and make them last longer.
“The holidays can quickly turn from joyful to tragic when a fire occurs,” Shepherd said. “By taking simple precautions, people can avoid potential fire hazards and make this time of year a healthy and happy one.”
More information: www.nfpa.org/holiday.