How to avoid fires dur­ing the hol­i­days

The Progress-Index - At Home - - NEWS - By Mar­garet Ely For more fire safety tips, visit For light­ing tips visit

Take note: Be­hind the twin­kle, sparkle and daz­zle of the hol­i­days, safety haz­ards lurk. Ev­ery year, U.S. fire de­part­ments re­spond to about 230 home fires started from Christ­mas trees, ac­cord­ing to a Na­tional Fire Pro­tec­tion As­so­ci­a­tion study. And Thanks­giv­ing, Christ­mas Eve and Christ­mas Day rank as the peak days for kitchen fires.

Lor­raine Carli, vice pres­i­dent of out­reach and ad­vo­cacy for the NFPA, said that although Christ­mas tree fires are not common, they can be deadly. Even hang­ing dec­o­ra­tions can pose a risk that lead to in­juries and emer­gency room vis­its, she said.

Be­ing aware of common safety mea­sures dur­ing this busy and stress­ful time of year is key, Carli said, whether it's the sim­ple act of un­plug­ging your tree lights or keep­ing an eye on your stove while cook­ing a big meal.

"It's re­ally, re­ally im­por­tant just to be vig­i­lant this time of year," Carli said.

Here are tips from the NFPA and Pepco elec­tric company to make sure you have a safe hol­i­day.


Cook­ing is the No. 1 home fire haz­ard, ac­cord­ing to the NFPA, and De­cem­ber is the peak time for can­dle fires; th­ese of­ten oc­cur in the bed­room, after peo­ple fall asleep.

"Fires are a risk in the kitchen year­round, but we're even more dis­tracted by en­ter­tain­ing guests and fam­ily this time of year," Carli said.

Stay in the kitchen when cook­ing and al­ways keep an eye on the stove, oven or grill.

Keep oven mitts, dish tow­els and other flammable items away from heat­ing el­e­ments and open flames.

Keep an eye on can­dles and fire­place fires, and be sure to ex­tin­guish them be­fore go­ing to bed or leav­ing the house.

Have your chim­ney cleaned an­nu­ally. After a fire, dis­pose of ashes in a metal con­tainer, away from flammable ma­te­rial.

Keep chil­dren at least three feet away from fire­places.

Check your smoke de­tec­tors. "This is a given," Carli said. "They should be checked once a month."


Hol­i­day light­ing poses the risk of over­draw­ing power and cre­at­ing a fire haz­ard, Pepco's Sean Kelly said. This is es­pe­cially true of older lights.

"String­ing more than three strands of Christ­mas lights to­gether, es­pe­cially older ones, and con­nect­ing them to a sin­gle elec­tric out­let can cause over­heat­ing," Kelly said. "The cir­cuit breaker trips in or­der to pro­tect the cir­cuit from over­heat­ing and caus­ing dam­age or an elec­tri­cal fire."

Older strands are more likely to over­heat re­gard­less, Kelly said, be­cause they re­quire more elec­tric­ity. Another haz­ard? Some types of older bulbs can crack but stay lighted, ex­pos­ing the heated wire, Kelly said.

In­spect your lights be­fore hang­ing them. If they look worn (frayed wires, loose or cracked bulbs), don't hes­i­tate to re­place them. Switch to LEDs, which are more en­ergy-ef­fi­cient and burn cooler than con­ven­tional in­can­des­cents.

If you're string­ing lights out­side, make sure they are for out­door use.

Do not at­tach more than three strings of lights to­gether.

Al­ways un­plug your lights and dec­o­ra­tions be­fore go­ing to bed or leav­ing the house.

Christ­mas trees

Wa­ter your tree daily; dried-out trees are a greater fire haz­ard than trees that are prop­erly wa­tered.

Keep trees at least three feet away from fire­places, can­dles, heat­ing vents or lights.

Don't use can­dles to dec­o­rate your tree

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