The winter holidays are a time for celebration and an increased risk of fire. In recent years, nearly 600 fires per year have been started by ignition of Christmas trees in the United States. Of these, 510 were started in homes, causing an average of 33 deaths, 112 injuries and $21 million in direct property damage per year.
Decorating with candles can also be a fire hazard. Candles cause annual averages of 6,700 home fires 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 to help keep your family safer during the holidays:
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 them. 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.
Never leave children unattended in a room with lit candles. Always keep candles, as well as matches and lighters, up high, out of the reach of children (preferably stored in a locked cabinet).
- 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.
- Keep the wick trimmed to about ¼ inch.
- Don't display lighted candles in windows or near exits in case you need these to escape.
- Under no circumstances use candles to decorate Christmas trees.
- Use a candle snuffer to extinguish candles.
Choose a fresh Christmas tree, and put it in a stand designed not to tip over. Cut at least ½ inch from the trunk of the tree before placing it in the stand containing water to keep the tree from drying out prematurely.
- Avoid placing it in an area close to heating appliances or the fireplace. This will not only dry the tree out prematurely, but can also increase the chance of accidental ignition.
- Keep the tree out of high traffic areas and away from stairways and doors. Never block an exit.
- Secure the tree so that pets or children cannot knock it over.
- Make sure to check the water level daily. A six-foot tree will use one gallon of water every two days.
- If you purchase an artificial tree, be sure it is labeled as fire-retardant.
- For Christmas trees to be displayed in commercial and office building or stores, the trees must be treated with an approved flame retardant.
When decorating with lights, be sure to purchase only those that bear the mark of a testing laboratory.
- Check lights for broken or cracked sockets. Make sure that all connections are tight and the bulbs and cords are in good condition. Replace any frayed or damaged cords.
- Be able to turn off the lights without having to crawl under the tree.
- Use the smaller lights. The older, larger bulbs are hotter and will dry out the tree, increasing the risk of a fire. The bigger ones also use a lot of electricity.
- Don't put more than three strands end to end. Each strand has a fuse, and if you run more than three, you'll blow the fuse on the string causing the whole string of lights not to work. Your best bet is to put an extension cord up through the tree and plug the strands of lights into the cord.
- Although a lighted tree looks pretty to people driving by, never leave the lights on when you're out of the house or while you're sleeping.
- When shopping for Christmas tree ornaments, attempt to find ones that are flame resistant.
- For outside decorations, use only those lights labeled for outdoor use. Fasten outdoor lights securely to trees, house walls or other supports to prevent wind damage. Use plastic ties or insulated staples, not nails or tacks to attach the lights.
- Turn off all lights when no one is home.
- For added electric shock protection, plug outdoor electric lights and decorations into circuits protected by ground fault circuit interrupters.
- Bring outdoor lights inside following the holidays so they are not damaged by extended exposure to harsh weather conditions.
When to remove the tree
Never burn a tree in a fireplace. Dry Christmas trees burn very hot and extremely quick. The fire may rapidly leave the fireplace and move into your room. Also, a Christmas tree is very oily and may damage your fireplace.
- The Fire Department recommends that a tree be removed from the home in the event that it becomes dry and begins shedding needles.
- Remove the tree as soon as possible after Christmas. Dispose of all papers and boxes at once, do not allow them to accumulate.
The Kansas City, Mo., Fire Department would be happy to meet with your group or organization to discuss fire safety. To schedule a visit, please contact Fire Prevention at (816) 784-9100.