Safer Holidays at Home
The winter holidays are a time for celebration, and that means more cooking, lots of entertaining, and an increased risk of fire. In recent years, nearly 600 fires per year have been started by ignition of Christmas trees in the U.S. (510 in homes), causing an average of 33 deaths (all in homes), 112 injuries, and $21 million in direct property damage per year. Decorating with candles can also be a fire hazard. An annual average of 6,700 home fires are caused by candles every year, with 87 associated deaths and 587 injuries. Nearly $59 million in property damage results from candle fires every year. Follow these fire prevention tips from the NFPA to help keep your family safer during the holidays.
Take care when burning candles. Be sure candles are placed in sturdy, non-combustible holders, and are kept well away from decorations and other combustible materials. Check candles frequently to make sure they don't burn down too far or drip hot wax. Don't leave children unattended in a room with lit candles, and always keep candles, as well as matches and lighters, up high, out of the reach of children (preferably stored in a locked cabinet). Don't display lighted candles in windows or near exits in case you need these to escape. Under no circumstances is it safe to use candles to decorate Christmas trees! Keep flashlights and fresh batteries on hand to use for lighting in the event of a power outage.
Use caution with holiday decorations and whenever possible, choose those made with flame-retardant or non-combustible materials. When cooking for holiday visitors, remember to keep an eye on the range. Unattended cooking is the leading cause of home fires in the U.S., so "stand by your pan!" If there are smokers around your home, provide plenty of large, deep ashtrays and check them frequently. Cigarette butts can smolder and cause a trash fire, so completely douse cigarette butts with water before discarding or flush them down the toilet. After a party, always check inside and under upholstery and cushions and inside trash cans for cigarette butts that may be smoldering. If you have children in your home, keep matches and lighters up high, out of their sight and reach (preferably in a locked cabinet). Ask visitors who are smokers to keep their smoking materials with them when they are visiting in your home.
Choose a fresh Christmas tree, and put it in a stand designed not to tip over. Place the tree well away from heat sources and exits, and water it constantly. If you purchase an artificial tree, be sure it is labeled as fire-retardant. When decorating with lights, be sure to purchase only those that bear the mark of a testing laboratory. Replace any frayed or damaged cords. For outside decorations, use only those lights labeled for outdoor use. Bring outdoor lights inside following the holidays so they are not damaged by extended exposure to harsh weather conditions. Always unplug all lights before leaving home or going to sleep and don't overload electrical outlets. Use only battery-operated lights if you have a metal Christmas tree, or decorate without lighting.