Holiday Safety

With the holiday season well underway, it’s an opportune time to remind homeowners of the risks associated with one of the most popular holiday decorations: Christmas trees. Fires associated with Christmas trees are infrequent but when they do occur, they are serious, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

From 2009 – 2013, fire departments across the country responded to an average of 210 home fires caused by Christmas trees, averaging about $17.5 million in property damage. In 30% of those fires, electrical failures or malfunctions caused the ignition. More details on Christmas tree fires can be read on the NFPA website.

In January 2015, a Maryland couple, along with their 4 grandchildren, tragically died in a house fire that was ultimately determined to have started from their 15 foot dried-up tree. The report indicated that a corroded electrical outlet in the floor ignited the Christmas tree skirt, which sent flames up the tree and eventually into the rest of the house. The tree lights had been left on for six weeks, heating up the outlet that sparked the blaze. The final investigative report indicated that the tree had been cut down over 60 days prior to the fire and that the couple only watered the tree once per week.

To ensure the safety of you, your family, and your home this holiday season, follow these fire safety tips from NFPA and FEMA’s U.S. Fire Administration:

  1. When choosing a tree, look for one that is fresh and has green needles. A tree which has dry needles can readily ignite with a flaming source and generate heat release rates that are capable of causing flashover in residential scale rooms.
  2. Water your tree daily to prevent it from drying out.
  3. Dispose of holiday lights that have frayed wires or excessive wear.
  4. Don’t connect more than three strands of mini-string lights.
  5. Keep your tree at least 3 feet from any heat source, such as a fireplace, radiator, candles or lights.
  6. Always unplug the lights on your tree before going to bed or leaving your home.
  7. When needles start to drop from the tree, it means the tree is drying out and should be disposed of soon.
  8.  Check the manufacturer’s labels on lights and decorations to ensure they are flame-retardant. They should have a label of an independent testing laboratory.
  9. Check that your smoke alarms are working.

Decorated trees aren’t the only hazard during the holiday season. Cooking is a leading cause of fires in the home and the holiday season is no exception. To avoid fires, do not leave your cooking unattended and put a lid on the pan if one does occur.

Another cause of fires during the holiday season is furnace and chimney fires.  You should have your furnace and chimney inspected by professionals. When using wood in a fireplace, dispose of the ashes in a lidded metal ashcan outside of the home. A single ember can stay hot and undetected for days.

After the Holidays

The longer a tree stays up in your home, the greater a fire hazard it becomes. It’s best to discard trees within one month after purchase. Many counties and towns have tree recycling or pick-up programs, but if you live in an area where no such program exists, contact local authorities for a recommended means of disposal. Although it may be tempting, never burn your Christmas tree in a fireplace or wood stove. Not only can it cause sparks to fly across the room, it can ignite a chimney fire.