According to the Red Cross nearly 47,000 fires occur during winter holidays. These fires claim more than 500 lives, cause more than 2,200 injuries, and cost more than $554 million in property damage.
There are nearly double the number of open-flame fires on Christmas Day than on any other average day and about twice as many on New Years Day. Statistically speaking, Christmas and New Years fires do considerably more damage than fires that occur during other times of the year. In fact, property loss during a holiday fire is usually 35% greater than average and the number of fatalities per thousand fires is nearly 70% higher.
Since we just finished Halloween and Thanksgiving is just around the corner, let’s take a few minutes to review some of the top ways experts suggest consumers can keep themselves- and their holidays- from going up in flames.
Your Christmas Tree
It is at the top of the list for a reason. Not because Christmas tree fires are so common- they aren’t particularly, but because when they do occur- they are so so very bad. On average, one of every 22 home fires that begin with the Christmas tree results in at least one death. Otherwise the average is 1 out of every 144 total reported home fires.
What makes the Christmas tree so deadly? When you use a live tree versus a fake tree. (Note: if you are purchasing an artificial tree, make sure the label says “flame retardant”. That won’t prevent it from burning, but it will take longer and it will be easier to extinguish if it does.)
If you use a live tree- know how to take care of it properly. This means- you need to cut off the end of the stump and water it daily. Yes- daily. You will be surprised at how much a tree drinks. A live tree becomes deadly when it becomes dried out. The longer it stays in your house (buying it the day after Thanksgiving and keeping it waaaaay past New Years) and the less moisture it has in it- will make it burn quick, fast, and hot. By the way- 37% of Christmas tree fires happen in January. Take your tree down!
In fact, here is a youtube video that demonstrates the difference between a dried out Christmas tree and a well-taken care of (moist) Christmas tree starting on fire. Check it out.
Most Christmas tree fires happen after Christmas when the tree is dried out. They happen at night when the tree is lit. So- throw your tree out around New Years time, unplug the lights when you go to bed at night, never put flames (a hem… real candles) near the tree, avoid positioning your tree near the fireplace, space heater, or curtains (which are flammable and will spread the fire if it does begin to burn). Lastly, keep curious pets and small children away from Christmas trees.
They do make products such as this “Treesafe” alarm which will help warn you that your Christmas tree is in danger. It is a heat sensing ornament that will send an instant alert to a remote outlet alarm if a fire breaks out.
Overloaded electrical circuits and cords
I see this and I immediately think of Clark Griswold.
Yep, you have a ton of Christmas lights and they all need power. Please make sure you are distributing that power in a way that won’t burn your house down.
A couple of things to consider: 1) Indoor lights don’t go outside. Outdoor lights don’t go inside. 2) Don’t string together more than 3 strands of lights. 3) Always check the lights for breaks and frays in the wires- even if they are new out of the box. 4) Always unplug or turn off all of your lights when you go to bed (or use a timer).
The top four days for home candle fires are New Year’s Day, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and Christmas Eve. Candle fires themselves cause an average of $374 million in direct property damage.
While there is no real secret to preventing a candle fire- it always bears a reminder that you should always make sure all candles are out before going to bed- even candles in your bedroom. 36% of all candle fires begin in the bedroom. Also, make sure your candles are on sturdy surfaces, out of reach of children and pets, and away from flammable materials- curtains, table cloth, or even silk / dried flowers in a centerpiece arrangement. Consider flickering LED candles- they are very pretty and a lot easier and safer to deal with.
With the colder temperatures, many people turn to fireplaces to help heat their homes- and for the cozy, romantic atmosphere. If you are a family that uses your fireplace a lot it is a good idea to get your chimney and fireplace professionally cleaned and inspected annually. Always put your fire out overnight and use a metal or glass screen to keep embers in the fireplace and not flying out into your living space. Never throw excessive paper (or lighter fluid) into the fireplace. This is an especially important reminder for gift giving time. Wrapper paper can burn particularly hot and can even start a flash fire- not to mention all of that blowing ash and lit particles that can blow out of the fireplace and land on a piece of carpet, the couch, or the curtain and then spread.
Heating equipment is the second greatest cause of home fires each years (behind cooking) and second greatest cause of home fire deaths (besides smoking materials). Of the different types of heating equipment, space heaters top the charts in cause of fire, deaths, injuries, and direct property damage.
Plain and simple- space heaters will cause a fire if they are too close to things that will burn- such as furniture (especially cloth furniture), clothing, mattresses, or curtains. Space heaters need to be kept at least 3 feet away from anything that could ignite (including walls and the Christmas tree!)
Cooking is the number one cause of house fires- and what is one of the best parts of the holiday season? The food! The biggest cooking day of the year is Thanksgiving and if you’ve ever been in charge of cooking a Thanksgiving dinner (or Christmas dinner), then you know that there are a lots of plates spinning and irons in the fire.
Obviously, as much as you can stay in the kitchen while you are cooking (or have someone help you)- the better. If something is actively on the stove- it’s an absolute must. Keep clutter away from the stove. Clean up those pot holders, oven mitts, wooden utensils, wash cloths/towels, paper or plastic bags, food packaging, etc. Take items (salt, pepper, olive oil) off the back ledge of your oven.
Lastly, if there is a fire on your stove, know how to put it out. If you have a fire in the oven or microwave, keep the door closed and turn off the oven. Opening the door will give it the oxygen it needs to spread. Use a lid to smother a fire, if possible. Never use water to put out a grease fire- you can use baking soda or salt (never flour- this can explode and make the fire worse). Don’t swat at the fire with a towel, apron, etc. You’re likely to fan the flames and spread it. Use your fire extinguisher- at the base of the fire. Lastly- don’t be afraid to call 911. Calling 911 before the fire gets out of hand will save your property and possibly your life.
Smoke Detectors and Fire Extinguishers
Check your batteries on your smoke detectors and make sure you have a smoke detector on every level of your house. Next Sunday is the end of daylight savings time so use that twice a year reminder that when you set your clocks back and forth to put new batteries in your smoke alarms.
It’s also a good idea to take the covers off your smoke detectors and clean them out. You can vacuum them to remove the dust and then replace the cover and use that “test” button! If you aren’t rewarded for your efforts with an ear piercing noise, then replace your smoke detector.
Having a working smoke alarm reduces one’s chances of dying in a fire by nearly half, according to the US Fire Administration.
Lastly, make sure you home has at least one fire extinguisher- and make sure it is not expired (yes- they do expire!) Fire extinguishers should be kept near the exits and not right next to common places of fire (ie- not next to the stove).
Here is a great article on how to choose the right fire extinguisher for your home.
You can also stop by our office at 821 Meadowbrook Rd #9 in Waukesha, WI for a coupon for 20% off of a fire extinguisher. No purchase necessary- we just want everyone to be safe this holiday season!