12 Tips for Holiday Fire Prevention

Author: W. Coleman Allen, Jr. - Richmond, Virginia Personal Injury Attorney

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, nearly 47,000 residential fires occur during the winter holidays, which claim more than 500 lives. The majority of these fires are caused by improper use or placement of seasonal decorations and carelessness or distraction during holiday cooking.

As you light the menorah, decorate your tree, or prepare a feast for family and friends, remembering these twelve fire safety and prevention tips can help you avoid a holiday hazard.

Holiday Safety Checklist:

  1. Before putting them to use, check all electrical string lights for loose or frayed wires, cracked bulbs, or worn or burned plugs. Any of these defective conditions could cause a short or trigger a spark that grows to a whole-house fire. 
  2. When hanging lights outdoors, be sure to use models that are UL-approved and specifically designed for outdoor use. These types of lights are typically designed to be moisture-resistant and often have fuses or other built-in emergency devices that are triggered in the event of an electrical short or damaged cord. As with indoor lights, you should always inspect outdoor lights for faults and wear before using. 
  3. If you must use an extension cord to connect your lights to an electrical outlet, buy the proper length so that you need only one to get the job done. Connecting multiple extension cords increases your chances of loose connections, electrical shorts, and other hazards. 
  4. When using candles, either for decoration, fragrance, or ambiance, place them at least 12 inches away from anything that can burn, including other candles. Discontinue the use of pillar and taper candles when they reach a height of 2 inches, and jar candles when they reach ¼ inch. Extinguish all candles when leaving a room and when going to bed. 
  5. Replace traditional candles with battery-operated alternatives when possible. 
  6. If you intend to display a Christmas tree, flame-retardant synthetic models or freshly-cut real trees provide the lowest risk of fire hazard. If you are using a real tree, water it daily and inspect it often for dry needles and branches. Never use lit candles to decorate a Christmas tree. 
  7. Whether it is real or artificial, always place your Christmas tree at least three feet from any heat source and be sure to use a sturdy tree stand to prevent tipping. 
  8. Unplug all decorative lights, both indoor and out, before you go to bed each night. A timer for lights may be helpful for simply switching them on and off at certain hours, but a malfunctioning timer (even when it is off) could leave you vulnerable to sparks or electrical shorts. Unplugging your lights completely is the best way to ensure safety while you are sleeping. 
  9. Avoid burning wrapping paper or clippings from Christmas tree branches in your fireplace. Burning paper may float into the chimney and could ignite any buildup of flammable material that has accumulated within. Also, the sticky resin from fir tree clippings could add to the buildup, causing a dangerous condition. 
  10. Keep anything and everything that is flammable away from your stovetop while cooking. Common culprits include paper towels, potholders, food packaging, and wooden utensils. 
  11. Never leave your stove unattended while cooking. Check covered pans often for adequate moisture, and always keep a method of extinguishing sudden grease fires within easy reach. 
  12. Install a working smoke detector in your kitchen, near bedrooms, and on every level of your home. Working smoke alarms alerted more than 20% of families who experienced residential fires during the holiday season and are at least partially responsible for those families escaping without injury. 

It’s easy to get caught up in the spirit of the season, but using this simple checklist can help you keep safety in mind as you spread holiday cheer!

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