The holidays are a time of celebrations, decorations and family gatherings. Unfortunately, this joyous period also ushers in House Fire Season. At this time of year, people are spending more time indoors which increases the risks of house fires. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) says there are more than 360,000 home structure fires each year, resulting in about $6-8 billion dollars in damage. According to their reports the 10 worst days of fires in homes fall between December 24 and January 6.
When combined, the Five C’s: Christmas trees, Candles, Chimneys, Cooking and Children can be serious contributing factors to causing fires. A majority of these fires are preventable with some forethought and care to minimize the risks.
The NFPA says an average of 230 fires are attributed to Christmas trees each year and they are more likely to be serious because of the factors that can contribute to the fire: a dry tree, electrical lights and a fuel supply (gifts) under the tree. Christmas tree fires cause an average of $18.3 million in property damage each year. The most common causes are electrical failures (32%), having the tree too close to a heat source like a fireplace or wood stove (17%) or being too close to candles (7%).
Buy a cut tree that has green, fresh needles.
Buy an artificial tree that is fire resistant.
Use a secure stand.
Locate trees a minimum of three feet from heat sources such as fireplaces and radiators.
Water live-cut trees every day.
Use lights listed by an industrial laboratory. Link together, at most, only three strands of bulbs.
Throw out lights that have frayed or broken cords.
Pull the plug on lights before going to bed or leaving home.
- When a tree starts dropping needles, it’s time to dispose of it (outside, not in the house, garage or basement).
Approximately one-third of these fires start in bedrooms, causing 39% of the associated deaths and 45% of the associated injuries. More than half of all candle fires start because of candles that were left too close to flammable items. They should always be kept at least 12 inches away from anything that can burn. Other causes of candle fires include leaving them unattended in a room or someone playing with the candles. Even something as simple as knocking a candle over when someone bumps a table they’re sitting on or a pet brushing against one is enough to spark a fire.
Make sure all candles are out before you leave a room or go to bed.
Keep clothing, curtains, furniture, and other flammable items away from candles and flame.
- Use candle holders that don’t tip over.
Creosote buildup or chimney blockage can catch fire. Chimney fires are unpredictable: they can be noisy and fierce, or can smolder undetected.
If you haven’t checked or cleaned the chimney in the past two years, don’t use it.
Have a pro inspect the chimney for creosote (which is what builds up in a chimney and fuels a chimney fire)
Use dry wood. This minimizes creosote buildup.
Don’t burn wrapping paper, boxes, trash or Christmas trees.
Don’t use liquid to start a chimney fire. Use kindling.
- Remember fireplace basics, too: use a screen to contain sparks; and let ashes cool before disposing of them in a metal container.
The number one source of house fires is cooking – usually leaving pots or pans unattended on the stove while you run away to do something for “just a minute.” The NFPA says that 40% of all house fires, or an average of 156,600 per year, start this way, causing approximately $853 million in property damage. Two-thirds of the fires started because the food or other materials caught fire. Fires are more likely to start on a range (57%) as compared to the oven (16%), mainly due to frying. Most injuries occur when the cook tried to put out the fire.
- Be alert when cooking and don’t leave food unattended.
- Don’t throw water on a grease fire, put a lid on the pan to smother the fire.
- If an oven fire flares up, turn off the oven and leave the door shut until the fire extinguishes itself.
- Keep clothing, pot holders, paper towels and other flammable items away from fires.
- Having working smoke detectors in the house and keep a fire extinguisher nearby just in case.
Perhaps the most unpredictable risks for winter fire are kids who are, naturally, exploring and experiencing the wonders of the winter season. Remember that lights and flames are fascinating to children.
Watch the wires. Keep kids away from light strands and power cords.
Matches, candles, stoves and ovens often get extra use during the holidays, at a time when adults are occupied with cooking, cleaning and entertaining. Stop and ask: “What might draw a child’s curiosity in this house?” Then shield children from those items, physically and through discipline and direction.
Put matches/lighters out of children’s reach. Use lighters that have a child-resistant safety feature.
- Train children to tell an adult if they see matches or lighters.
As always, the restoration experts at Xtreme Home Improvement stand ready to assist our clients when fires occur. We have helped many homeowners in Central PA recover from house fire damages. Enjoy the holidays and stay safe this winter.