Keep your holidays from going up in flames

  • Published
  • By Hal McLelland
  • Fire Inspector
For most of us, the holiday season is a time for family festivities and good cheer. What few of us consider is that the holiday season is also a time when there is an increased risk of home fires.

Many households engage in holiday activities that serve as some of the leading causes of U.S. home fires, such as: cooking, Christmas trees, candles and holiday decorations, which all significantly contribute to the seasonal causes of home fires.

As everyone gets busier during the holidays, we often become rushed, distracted or tired and that's when home fires are more likely to occur. Fortunately, with a little added awareness and some minor adjustments to holiday cooking and decorating, the season can remain festive and safe for everybody.

With unattended cooking as the leading cause of U.S. home fires and home fire injuries stay in the kitchen while you're frying, grilling 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, boiling, baking or roasting food, check it regularly and use a timer to remind you that you're cooking.

The Fire Prevention Office also suggests creating a "kid-free zone" of at least 3 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 home fires started by candles. The National Fire Protection Association's statistics show that more than half of all candle fires start because the candles were too close to things that could catch fire. Consider using flameless candles. But, 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. Lastly, never leave a child alone in a room with a burning candle.

According to NFPA, U.S. fire departments respond to an average of 250 structure fires annually caused by Christmas trees. Nearly half of them are caused by electrical problems, and one-in-four resulted from a heat source that's too close to the tree. The base fire department offers the following advice for picking, placing and lighting the tree:

· Make sure artificial trees are labeled, certified or identified by the manufacturer as fire retardant.

· If using a fresh tree, make sure the green needles don't fall off when touched; before placing it in the stand, cut one or two inches from the base of the trunk. Add water to the tree stand daily.

· Make sure the tree is not blocking an exit and is at least 3 feet away from any heat source such as fireplaces, space heaters, radiators, candles, heat vents and lights.

· Use lights that have the label of an independent testing laboratory, 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.

· Include information on your community Christmas tree recycling program.

· After Christmas, get rid of the tree. Dried-out trees are a fire hazard and should not be left in the home, garage or placed outside the home.

· Bring outdoor electrical lights inside after the holidays to prevent hazards and make them last longer.

Using these fire prevention tips and measures can greatly reduce the risk of fire in homes. Simple precautions avoid potential fire hazards and make this time of year a healthy and happy one.

Visit for more information and safety tips or contact the Sheppard Fire Emergency Services Fire Prevention Office at 676-5735 or 676-2104.