Holiday Safety

How to avoid house fires, injuries and other things that can go wrong during the holiday season.

By Erik J. Martin.

As the song goes, deck the halls with boughs of holly, and ’tis the season to be jolly. Just be sure that your mirth-making and merriment don’t result in a Christmastime catastrophe that leads to property damage, injury, or death.

Because, truth is, the holidays are an especially dangerous time in homes due to several factors.

It’s a time when accidents are more likely to happen. There are many ways people can get hurt during the holidays – from fires caused by decoration to injuries sustained while putting up lights.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, Christmas trees are the leading cause of home fires during the holidays, followed by candles and holiday lights. Annually, an average of 210 structure fires are started by Christmas trees, with another 1,370 fires initiated by candles. Collectively, these fires result in an average of 16 deaths, 160 injuries, and $280 million in property damage every year.

Chad Selk, fire captain/firefighting liaison for GreenFire Fire Suppression Innovations, says it’s essential to develop a fire safety plan and practice it so that all family members know what to do and where to go in case of a fire.

“When putting up holiday lights or any electronic decorations, thoroughly inspect them. If they are old and need replacing, change them out. Old and worn-out wires can easily cause a fire. Be sure to turn off or unplug holiday lights or corded decorations before going to bed, as well,” Selk says. “Having surge protectors in place to guard against wire shortouts is also a good idea. And have some type of fire suppressor or extinguishment tool readily available, too.”

Additionally, if you have a real Christmas tree, keep it well-watered, as a dry tree can become highly flammable. Furthermore, dispose of a real tree properly and safely promptly after the holiday, using a tree recycling center or curbside pickup by your municipality, adds Selk.

“It’s also important that proper caution is used when burning your fireplace. Ensure your Christmas tree is at least 36 inches from the fireplace opening. Don’t hang stockings on the fireplace mantle, as this can cause a fire,” cautions Russ Dimmitt, education director for the Chimney Safety Institute of America. “There is a temptation to throw wrapping paper and cardboard into the fireplace to dispose of them. But because of the nature of paper and cardboard, when burned, flaming debris may float up the chimney and possibly ignite a chimney fire.”

Dimmitt warns never to burn your real tree in your fireplace and recommends having your fireplace inspected by a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep at least once a year.

In addition, approximately 2,900 home clothes dryer fires are reported yearly, often during the holiday season.

Condensation buildup happens within the vents connected to our dryers due to the change in temperature throughout the seasons. During winter holidays, this condensation buildup can be dangerous because it causes more lint to cake onto the walls within the dryer vent. Do smaller laundry loads, such as two blankets maximum per load, and get your dryer vents cleaned out before the holiday season begins.

Holly Carter, a representative and insurance agent with Country Financial, advises using extension cords appropriately; never use an indoor-rated cord outdoors, for example. Keep cords out of your walking paths, too, to avoid tripping.

“When purchasing decorations for your tree, only buy materials with a ‘fire-resistant’ label. Limit the use of decorations that have small parts and sharp edges, or that resemble food or candy, which can injure children. Also, keep candle wicks trimmed to 1/8 of an inch,” she suggests.

Better yet, ditch real candles and use battery-operated fake ones instead.

But if you are going to use real candles, never leave them unattended. Be sure to blow them out before departing the room or going to bed.

In addition, avoid using your stovetop or oven to heat your home, turn off space heaters prior to leaving the room or going to bed, and ensure that all smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are working correctly with fresh batteries.

Lastly, take time to remove snow and ice from your driveway, walkways, and home entryway to prevent slips and falls, refrain from hanging outdoor decor during inclement weather, and think twice before climbing a ladder to the roof to adorn your property.