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Holiday Décor Poses Fire Risk

December 13, 2013

Originally published Dec. 10, 2012

While winter holiday décor adds festive flair to many homes, it can also be a fire hazard.

According to the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA), U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated annual average of 240 home structure fires that began with Christmas trees from 2005 to 2009. Thirteen percent of home Christmas tree fires involved decorative lights and candles started 11 percent of home Christmas tree structure fires.

Steve Davidson, project director for the Georgia Department of Public Health's Office of Injury Prevention, said the holidays are a great time to ensure you're following important measures to keep your space safe.

"Always make sure that your smoke detectors are working and that you and yours have a practiced escape plan for your home in case of a fire," Davidson said.

When decorating your home for the holidays, choose decorations and a superficial tree that are flame resistant or flame retardant. If you must have a real tree, pick a fresh one with green needles that do not fall off when touched. Cut off two inches of the trunk to enhance water absorption and add water daily to the tree stand, as hydrated trees are less flammable. Make sure it is at least three feet away from any heat source, such as fireplaces, radiators, candles, heat vents or lights. Also make sure the tree is not blocking an exit. Discard trees after Christmas or when it is dry with a local recycling program.

When using electric lights, use lights that have been tested for safety by an independent testing laboratory. Determine whether the lights are only for indoor or outdoor use. Use clips, not nails, to hang lights so cords do not get damaged. Replace any string of lights that are worn or damaged. Use no more than three sets of lights per single extension cord. Also follow these guidelines to avoid a disastrous holiday season:

  • When using a fireplace, check that there are no leaks in the chimney and that the flue is open. Remove all greens, papers and other decorations from the area. Keep a screen before the fireplace the entire time a fire is burning. Do not burn evergreens in the fireplace.
  • Blow out candles and turn of all string lights and decorations before leaving home or going to bed.
  • Make an emergency plan to use if a fire breaks out and practice it.

Cooking safety is crucial, especially when there is a lot of activity and people in the home. According to the NFPA, Thanksgiving is the peak day of the year for home cooking fires, with an estimated annual average of 156,400 home fires resulting in an average of 420 deaths and 5,310 injuries in 2010. Unattended cooking was the by far the leading cause of home cooking fires.

When preparing Thanksgiving dinner, always stay in the kitchen and keep an eye on the food when cooking on the stovetop, especially when frying, grilling or broiling food. Turn off the stove if you have to leave the kitchen, even for a short period of time.

Keep anything that can catch fire such as oven mitts, wooden utensils, food packaging, towels, or curtains away from the stovetop. Be aware of your clothing as well. When simmering, roasting, or broiling food, check it regularly, remain in the home while the food is cooking and use a timer to remind you that you are cooking. If you are sleepy or have consumed alcohol, do not use the stove or stovetop.

It is important to keep children away from the stove, hot foods and liquids, and knives. If you have a cooking fire, do not try to put out the fire. Get out, close the door behind you to contain the fire and immediately call 911 or the local emergency number.