For most people, the holiday season means family festivities and good cheer. With the challenges brought by COVID-19, that can seem like a thing of the past.
In any times, however, the holiday season brings an increased risk of home fires. According to the Delaware State Fire School, many festive traditions bring some of the leading causes of U.S. home fires, including cooking, Christmas trees, candle usage and seasonal decorations, with the holiday bustle adding to the hazards.
“As everyone gets busier during the holidays, we often become rushed, distracted or tired,” said Michael Lowe, DSFS public information officer. “That’s when home fires are more likely to occur.”
Fortunately, with a little added awareness and some minor adjustments, the season can remain festive and safe for everybody. “By taking some preventive steps and following simple rules of thumb, most home fires can be prevented,” said Lowe.
With unattended cooking as the leading cause of U.S. home fires and home fire injuries, Lowe recommends staying in the kitchen while preparing food. Most cooking fires involve the stovetop, so keep anything that can catch fire away from it, and turn off the stove when leaving the kitchen, even for a short period of time. Check food regularly and use a timer as a reminder of when dishes are done. The Delaware State Fire School also suggests creating a kid-free zone of at least three feet around the stove and areas where hot food and drinks are prepared or carried.
Candles are widely used in homes during the holidays, and December is the peak month for home candle fires. Statistics from the nonprofit National Fire Protection Association show that two of every five home decoration fires are started by candles. DSFS encourages Delaware residents to consider using flameless candles, which look and smell like real candles. However, if traditional candles are used, keep them at least 12 inches away from anything that can burn, and remember to blow them out when unattended. Use candle holders that are sturdy, won’t tip over and are placed on uncluttered surfaces. Avoid using candles in the bedroom, where more than one-third of U.S. candle fires begin, or other areas where people may fall asleep. Lastly, never leave a child or pet alone in a room with a burning candle.
According to NFPA, U.S. fire departments respond to an average of 210 home structure fires caused by Christmas trees each year. Three of every 10 are caused by electrical problems, and one in four results from a heat source that’s too close to the tree. DSFS offers the following advice for picking, placing and lighting the tree:
• When using an artificial tree, be sure it’s labeled, certified or identified by the manufacturer as fire-retardant.
• If choosing a fresh tree, make sure needles don’t fall off when touched; before placing it in the stand, cut 2 inches from the base of the trunk, secure it firmly in a sturdy tree stand, and water it daily.
• Make sure the tree is not blocking an exit, and is at least three feet away from any heat source, like fireplaces, space heaters, radiators, heat vents or lights.
• Use lights labeled by a recognized testing laboratory, and check whether they are designed for indoor or outdoor use.
• Replace any string of lights with worn/broken cords or loose bulb connections. Read manufacturer’s instructions for number of light strands to connect.
• Never use lit candles to decorate the tree.
• Always turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving home or going to bed.
Soon after Christmas, get rid of the tree. Dried-out trees are a fire hazard and should not be left in the home or garage, or placed outside the home. Bring outdoor electrical lights inside after the holidays to prevent hazards and make them last longer.
Delaware State Fire School says home fire risks can be greatly reduced by following these fire prevention tips and measures. “The holidays can quickly turn from joyful to tragic when a fire occurs. By taking simple precautions, people can avoid potential fire hazards, and make this time of year a healthy and happy one,” said Lowe.