What’s not to love about the holidays. The gathering of family and friends, holiday baking, belt loosening meals, beautiful decorations, the giving and receiving of gifts … and the list goes on. This is not a season we typically associate with danger or disaster. But in the real world, holiday disasters can leave homes in ruins and families in mourning.
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, one in 32 holiday tree fires result in fatalities. Between 2013 and 2017, holiday tree fires caused around $10 million in property damage each year. During the same period, fire departments across the country responded to nearly 800 fires per year caused by holiday decorations other than trees. These statistics are quite alarming!
What Can You Do to Protect Your Home During the Holidays?
According to the National Fire Protection Association, more than 25% of holiday tree fires are caused by electrical issues. If your family prefers a live tree, follow these precautions to keep your home safe:
• Buy a fresh tree with green needles that do not fall off when you touch them.
• Before inserting the tree into its stand, cut off two inches of the trunk to ensure good water penetration.
• Place the tree at least three feet away from heat sources or open flames, including candles, fireplaces, floor and table lamps, heating vents and radiators.
• Do not place the tree in a space that blocks an exit or creates a trip hazard.
• Refill the tree stand’s water reservoir every day.
• Never decorate a tree with lit candles.
• Discard the tree after it becomes dry and needles start to fall on the floor. Many communities have tree disposal programs, so check with your local sanitation department.
Artificial vs Live Trees
Manufacturers and retailers often advertise artificial trees as being safer than live trees, but that’s not always the case.
The reality is that pre-lit artificial trees can pose the same fire risk as live trees, according to Underwriters Laboratory’s research. A marketing claim that an artificial tree is flame resistant is not enough to ensure its safety. Here’s a few tips to make sure your artificial tree purchase is a safe one:
• When purchasing a pre-lit artificial tree, look for the UL 2358 certification, the highest safety rating.
• When placing and decorating your tree, follow the same precautions recommended for live trees, except for watering and disposal requirements.
Indoor and outdoor holiday lights have the potential for many risks, but following a few safety tips can help you avoid problems:
• Only use lights certified by Underwriters Laboratories. Look for the “UL” symbol when shopping for holiday lights.
• Never use lights designed for outdoor use on an indoor tree.
• Before placing lights on the tree, look for broken bulbs, loose bulbs and frayed or exposed wires. If a strand displays any of these issues, throw it away and purchase new lights.
• Do not overload power strips, and only use strips equipped with circuit breakers or surge protection.
• Turn off lights when you go to bed or leave home, even if you’re only leaving for a few minutes.
• Never use extension cords designed for indoor use for outdoor lighting or holiday displays.
• Use low-heat LED strip lights on trees and shrubs.
• Do not stretch extension cords across dry grass or through water puddles.
• Never decorate dry, dead trees or shrubs with lights.
Trees are not the only holiday fire risk. Holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving have the highest number of fires during cooking because of the increased cooking times and distractions. It’s important to ensure you take special precautions when preparing holiday meals:
• Make sure kids stay at least three feet away from stoves and ovens. Or, make your kitchen a kids-free zone during holiday meal preparation.
• Don’t cook your holiday turkey or ham overnight, while you are asleep or while you’re away from home. Always remain in or near your kitchen while cooking.
• Plug cooking appliances directly into an outlet, and avoid connecting them to an extension cord.
• Never use a deep-fat turkey fryer indoors, even in a garage. Place the turkey fryer on concrete that is at least three feet from dry grass or shrubs. Better yet, purchase an oil-less turkey fryer for safer cooking.
• Do not place flammable materials such as bags, cooking oil and grease containers, food packaging, oven mitts, towels and wooden utensils near stove burners.
• Do not wear baggy clothes when cooking to prevent contact with stoves. If you have long hair, tie it in a ponytail or bun and use a head cover.
• Place completed dishes on back burners to avoid accidental burns.
• Clean grease from stovetops and countertops to avoid flare ups.
Too Much Alcohol and Holidays Don’t Mix
According to the National Safety Council, nearly 1,100 people in 2017 died in traffic accidents on New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day, one-third of which were attributed to alcohol impairment
• Avoid serving excessive amounts of alcohol. While Uncle Mike might be the life of the party after a few drinks, inebriated partygoers could sustain an injury or cause a damaging accident to your home.
• Make sure intoxicated party guests have a designated driver or go home by taxi or rideshare.
The best way to avoid burns and fires during the holiday season is to use battery-operated candles, kinaras and menorahs. However, if you choose to use real candles, follow these tips to keep your family and home safe:
• Only use durable candle holders made from glass or metal.
• Never leave candles unattended. Extinguish candles before going to bed, when you leave home and even when you leave the room for more than a couple of minutes.
• Keep candles out of reach of kids and pets. According to the New York City Fire Department, children five to nine years old account for the majority of New York City fatalities caused by candle fires.
• Never place candles less than three feet away from flammable materials such as beds, carpeting, curtains, holiday trees, sofas and tablecloths.
• Don’t let candles burn to their base. Extinguish them when they reach two inches from the holder.
• Avoid wearing baggy clothing around candles and secure long hair in a ponytail, bun or head covering.
• Secure matches and lighters out of reach of children and at least four feet from open flames.
• Don’t use candles for outdoor decoration.
A fireplace enhances the ambiance of any home, especially during the holiday season. They provide warmth on cold winter nights and serve as the centerpiece for festive gatherings. To prevent fireplace mishaps during the holidays, follow regular safety recommendations, along with a few extra precautions:
• Hire a licensed specialist to inspect and clean your fireplace and chimney before the cold winter months arrive.
• Keep fireplaces clean by promptly removing ash and coals after each use.
• Store combustible materials such as newspaper, kindling and wood three to four feet away from the fireplace.
• Always open the flue before starting a fire and avoid closing it until the fire has completely burned out.
• Never use a flammable liquid to start a fire. Use only matches or lighters.
• Prevent embers from escaping the fireplace by placing a metal mesh or glass screen in front of it. Attached glass doors provide the best protection.
• Always use dry wood in your fireplace because wet wood can cause a chimney fire if creosote buildup occurs.
• Do not use your fireplace to dispose of items such as boxes or wrapping paper, because some materials produce toxic fumes when burned.
• Never burn a holiday tree in a fireplace.
• Always extinguish a fire before going to bed or leaving home.
• Store fireplace ash in a metal can, at least 10 feet from your house and store dry firewood at least 30 feet from your house.
• Remove tree branches that grow over your chimney and keep the roof around your chimney free from leaf and pine needle debris.
• Fit your chimney with a chimney cap to prevent embers from escaping and keep animals and leaves out.
• Install carbon monoxide and smoke detectors in your home. Many insurance companies offer discounts for installing these safety devices.
• Do not allow small children or pets within three or four feet of your fireplace, especially when the screen is removed or glass doors are open.
The holiday season typically brings with it a lot of extra activity, enticing smells and tasty food, and “chewable” decor. Our family pets often don’t understand dangers, so it’s up to us to keep them safe during the holidays. You can keep your pet safe and healthy by following these simple tips:
• Prevent pets from accessing electrical cords. Pets such as cats, dogs and rabbits often see an electrical cord as a toy to chew, especially cords on light strands and extension cords. When possible, run cords under furniture or cover them to prevent your pet from suffering a serious electrocution injury.
• Avoid giving pets table scraps during the holiday season unless you know the food is safe for your pet’s species.
• Research holiday plants before bringing them into your home. Plants such as mistletoe and poinsettias are toxic for some pet species.
As the holiday season draws near, the most important consideration is keeping your family and home safe. By following a few simple decorating, cooking and entertaining safety guidelines, you can rest assured that your holiday plans remain safe, memorable family traditions.