How to prevent fires during the holiday season

The National Fire Protection Association estimates that 30 percent of all U.S. residential fires and 38 percent of deaths in home fires occur in December, January and February.

 

Consider:

  • There are an average of 1,550 cooking fires on Thanksgiving Day, making it the number one day of the year for such blazes.

  • The top three days for residential fires started by candles are Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year's Day.

  • Christmas tree fires cause an average of six deaths a year, 22 injuries and an estimated $18.3 million in damage. Fires ignited by electronic decorations cause six deaths, 47 injuries and an estimated $12.9 million in damage each year, the NFPA says.

While the statistics are sobering, local experts say precautions can be taken to deck those halls, enjoy the fireplace, light the Menorah and ring in the New Year.

Trees and decorations

Live trees should be kept well-watered to prevent them from drying out, and should be placed at least 3 feet from any heat source. Trees should be removed soon after Christmas, or when they become dried out — 40 percent of Christmas tree fires occur in January, when the holidays are over.

Don't overload electrical outlets. Choose artificial trees and decorations that are flame resistant or flame retardant, and don't connect more than three strands of lights together.

Check all cords and light strings to make sure they're not worn or frayed and make sure outdoor lights are designed for that purpose. Unplug all electric decorations before going to bed. Use only UL approved extension cords and power strips.

Candles should never be left burning in a room unattended, and should not be placed directly on a table, counter or other surface — they should be on a plate, a Menorah or a candlestick or candelabra designed for that purpose and should be kept at least 12 inches from curtains or other things that can burn.

Keeping chimneys clean

Enjoying a cozy fire is a holiday tradition in many homes with a fireplace, and precautions should be taken to do so safely.

We call this chimney fire season. People forget to open the damper or close the ash dump, or they sweep hot ashes down the dump and start fires. They burn unseasoned wood, or softwoods that produce a lot of creosote, which sticks to the walls of the chimney and is very flammable.

The most important precaution to prevent such fires is to have your chimney cleaned and inspected every year by a sweep who is certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America. Fires should be built in the rear of the fireplace, with wood placed on andirons or a metal grate.

A mesh metal screen or glass fireplace doors should be used to prevent sparks or embers from escaping the fireplace. Keep children and pets at least three feet away and make sure ribbons, gift wrap, boxes and other flammable materials are cleaned up.

Cold weather precautions

  • Have your furnace inspected and cleaned every year.
  • Keep anything that can burn at least three feet from heat sources.
  • Never use an oven for heat.
  • Portable space heaters should be UL rated and should shut off automatically if tipped over. Extension cords should never be used with a space heater. Space heaters should be turned off when no one is in the room, and when you go to sleep.
  • Keep a working fire extinguisher on each floor of your home.
  • Check smoke and carbon monoxide alarms each month to make sure they're working; change the batteries twice a year.
  • Have a fire safety plan, and make sure everyone in the family knows what to do in case of a fire.

Visit www.nfpa.org or www.fema.gov for more tips on holiday safety and fire prevention in general.