Home fire prevention during the holidays

Last Modified: 12/01/2021

For most of us, the holiday season represents a time for family festivities and good cheer. But all of that yuletide cheer and tradition also puts our homes at risk. According to the Fort Wayne Fire Department, many households engage in seasonal activities, including cooking, that serve as some of the leading causes of U.S. home fires. Christmas trees, candles and holiday decorations also significantly contribute to the seasonal hazards. 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,” Jim Murua, Assistant Chief, Fort Wayne Fire Department, said. “That’s when home fires are more likely to occur.” Fortunately, with a little added awareness and some minor adjustments, the season can be festive and safe. “By taking some preventive steps and following simple rules of thumb, most home fires can be prevented.”

In the kitchen

Unattended cooking is the leading cause of U.S. home fires and home fire injuries. During the holidays, and always, you should stay in the kitchen while you’re frying, grilling, boiling 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 period of time. If you’re simmering, baking or roasting food, check it regularly and use a timer to remind you that you’re cooking. The Fort Wayne Fire Department also suggests creating a “kid-free zone” of at least three feet around the stove and areas where hot food and drinks are prepared or carried.

Open flames

Candles are frequently used in homes throughout the holidays and December is the peak month for home candle fires. The nonprofit National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) statistics show 38 percent of home decoration fires (excluding Christmas trees) are started by candles. The Fort Wayne Fire Department encourages residents to consider using flameless candles, which look and smell like real candles. If you do use traditional candles, keep them at least 12 inches away from anything that can burn, and remember to blow them out when you leave the room or go to bed.

Use candle holders that are sturdy, won’t tip over, and are placed on uncluttered surfaces. Avoid using candles in the bedroom where more than one-third of U.S. candle fires begin or other areas where people may fall asleep. Lastly, never leave a child or pet alone in a room with a burning candle.

Christmas trees

According to NFPA, U.S. fire departments respond to an average of 200 home structure fires caused by Christmas trees each year. Two of every five of them involve electrical problems or lighting distribution, and one in four results from a heat source that’s too close to the tree.

The Fort Wayne Fire Department offers the following advice:

  • If you have an artificial tree, be sure it’s labeled, certified or identified by the manufacturer as fire-retardant.
  • If you choose a fresh tree, make sure the green needles don’t fall off when touched.
  • Before placing it in the stand, cut 2 inches from the base of the trunk. Add water to the tree stand and be sure to 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 a recognized testing laboratory, and make sure you know whether they are designed for indoor or outdoor use.
  • Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. Read manufacturer’s instructions for number of light strands to connect.
  • 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.
  • Please see the Allen County Solid Waste Management District website at www.acwastewatcher.org or call (260) 449-7878 for the Christmas Tree Recycling Program.
  • When decorating, please remember, an overloaded electrical outlet is a major fire hazard.
  • Bring outdoor electrical lights inside after the holidays to prevent hazards and make them last longer.
  • Have working smoke alarms in your home, create a home escape plan, and practice it with your family so everyone knows what to do if a fire occurs.

By following these fire prevention tips and measures, you can greatly reduce the risk of fire in your home and enjoy a safe holiday season. “The holidays can quickly turn from joyful to tragic when a fire occurs,” Asst. Chief Murua said. “By taking simple precautions, people can avoid potential fire hazards and make this time of year a healthy and happy one.”

Visit nfpa.org/holiday for more information and safety tips.



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