Celebrate Safely: Enjoy the Holidays and Avoid Fire Hazards
Fall and winter holidays are exciting times to gather with family and friends, enjoy traditional decorations and eat special foods. Unfortunately, these holiday festivities can also present unique fire hazards. More residential fires happen during the colder months of the year, and are primarily caused by cooking, heating, and electrical malfunctions, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.
A house fire will certainly take the joy out of celebrating the holidays, so take appropriate precautions to ensure the safety of your home and your guests. No matter what holidays you celebrate, consider these important steps for staying safe and preventing fires.
1. Cook With Care
Fourty-seven percent of home fires start while cooking, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. Although cooking with care is always important, it can be easy to neglect caution during the chaotic holiday preparations. More cooks – and more pots – in the kitchen can increase the risk of a fire. On Thanksgiving Day 2015, fire departments reported 1,760 cooking-related home fires, a 259 percent increase over a typical day, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). On Christmas Day and Christmas Eve the same year, the numbers of cooking fires were 72 and 52 percent higher than normal, respectively.
Be sure to stay in the kitchen when you have something cooking on the stovetop or in the oven. The NFPA recommends keeping pan lids close by so that if a fire starts you can quickly cover it with the lid and remove the pan from the burner. When food preparation is finished, turn off the burners and remove the pans, as the stovetop can remain hot.
2. Pay Attention to Indoor Decorations
When decorating indoors, test all lights and cords and replace any faulty products before use. Hang indoor lights with clips rather than nails to avoid damaging cords and never use decorations intended for outdoor use only inside your home. If you burn candles indoors, keep them away from children and always extinguish them before you leave the room or go to sleep.
Place Christmas trees or seasonal plants at least three feet away from any heat source and turn off any decorative lights prior to leaving your home or going to sleep. Never use real candles to light a tree and water a live tree every day to prevent it from becoming dry and brittle. When the holiday ends or the tree becomes dry, get rid of it. Do not leave a live, dried out tree in the garage or near your house, as they are highly combustible.
3. Use Outdoor Light Displays Responsibly
Many people show their holiday spirit with outdoor light displays. If you decorate outside, use only electrical decorations and extension cords manufactured for outdoor use, recommends the Electrical Safety Foundation International.
Keep the cords and lights away from snow or standing water and avoid damage to the cord's insulation by ensuring it is not pinched in doors or windows or placed under furniture.
Also when installing outdoor lights, use a ladder made of wood or fiberglass, as metal ladders can conduct electricity.
4. Don't Forget Lighters and Matches
An open flame can pose serious risks if handled improperly. Always keep lighters, matches, and other fire-starting materials away from children. Make sure holiday guests who smoke do so outside and properly dispose of cigarette butts and ashes – by dampening cigarette butts before throwing them in the trash, for example.
Exercise caution if using a fireplace or an outdoor fire pit. Gathering family and friends around a fire can be a cozy, enjoyable way to experience the colder weather but make sure you place the fire pit at least 10 feet away from your home or other structures and don't use it in windy weather, as the fire can quickly spread outside the intended area.
Have your chimney inspected prior to using a wood-burning fireplace and only burn dry firewood that has been out of the rain for several months. Green or damp wood, when burned, can create additional dangers as it sizzles and smokes. Also avoid a common holiday decorating mistake by never hanging stockings or other dangling decorations in front of a working fireplace.
5. Use Fireworks Appropriately
Ringing in the New Year with fireworks has become an American tradition, but fireworks present dangers when used inappropriately. Before celebrating with fireworks, check local laws regarding their use and follow all regulations. If your area allows the use of fireworks at home, never allow children to use them unsupervised, warns the National Safety Council. Use fireworks outside only, away from buildings and trees, and never relight a firework that fails to explode.
By understanding the potential fire risks associated with this time of year and taking simple precautions, you can keep your home and family safe, while enjoying the holiday season.