For most, the holiday season represents a time for family festivities and good cheer. What few consider is that the holiday season is a time when there is an increased risk of home fires. Christmas trees, candle usage, holiday decorations, even cooking significantly contribute to the seasonal causes of home fires, according to Miami Fire Chief Ronnie Cline. 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. Cline said taking some preventative steps and following simple rules of thumb, most home fires can be prevented.
“Unattended cooking is the leading cause of U.S. home fires and home fire injuries and most cooking fires involve the stovetop,” Cline said. “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.” Cline suggests that cooks also frequently check simmering, boiling, baking or roasting food and use a timer to remind you that you’re cooking. The fire chief 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.
Candles are widely used in homes throughout the holidays and December is the peak month for fires attributed to candle flames. The nonprofit National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) statistics show that two of every five home decoration fires are started by candles. Cline encourages Miami residents to consider using flameless candles. However, if traditional candles are preferred, keep them at least 12 feet 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 place them on uncluttered surfaces. Avoid using candles in the bedroom where one-third of U.S. candle fires begin. Lastly, never leave a child alone in a room with a burning candle.
According to NFPA, U.S. fire departments respond to 230 home structure fires caused by Christmas trees each year. One of every three of them is caused by electrical problems, and one in five resulted from a heat source that’s too close to the tree. Cline offers the following advice for picking, placing and lighting the tree:
• If you have an artificial tree, be sure it’s labeled and 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 1 to 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 such as fireplaces, space heaters, radiators, candles and heat vents or lights.
• Use lights that have the label of an independent 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. Connect no more than three strands of mini-string sets and a maximum of 50 bulbs for screw-in bulbs.
• 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, in a garage, or placed outside the home.
• Bring outdoor electrical lights inside after the holidays to prevent hazards and extend their life.
By following these fire prevention tips, Cline says you can greatly reduce the risk of fire in a home. The holidays can quickly turn from joyful to tragic when a fire occurs. By taking simple precautions, people can avoid potential fire hazards, and make this time of year a healthy and happy one.
Visit www.nfpa.org/safety-information for more information and safety tips.