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Winter and Disaster Prep

‘Tis the Season to Practice Fire Safety

Photo: Courtesy of Sergei Solo

Festive decorations, home-cooked meals and a warm home filled with friends and family are all hallmarks of the holidays. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, as they say — until it’s not.

At the risk of sounding like a Scrooge, the likelihood of home fires increases during the holiday season. Cooking, heating and holiday decorations (which often include candles and electrical lighting) play a contributing role in that increased fire risk.

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and Christmas Eve are the three leading days for U.S. home cooking fires. Meanwhile, December represents the leading month for candle fires and one of the three leading months for heating fires.

Fortunately, it’s not all bah humbug when it comes to the holidays and fire safety. By following NFPA’s simple safety precautions, you can ensure a festive, fire-safe season for you and your loved ones.


Thanksgiving represents the leading day for U.S. home cooking fires, with nearly four times as many home cooking fires occurring that day as on a typical day of the year.

Following are NFPA’s recommendations for safely cooking in the kitchen this holiday season and beyond:

Stay in the kitchen while you are frying, grilling or broiling food. If you leave the kitchen for even a short period of time, turn off the stove. If you are simmering, baking, roasting or boiling food, check it regularly, remain in the home while food is cooking and use a timer.

Clear anything that can catch fire — oven mitts, wooden utensils, food packaging, towels or curtains — away from your stovetop. Also keep children three feet away from the stove and make sure they stay away from hot food and liquids to avoid steam or splash from vegetables, gravy or coffee.

Avoid using turkey fryers that use large amounts of hot cooking oil, instead seek out grocery stores, specialty food retailers and restaurants for your fried turkey fix. Finally, be alert. If you are sleepy or have consumed alcohol, don’t use the stove or stovetop.

Christmas trees

Christmas trees are decorative centerpieces in just about any home, but they are essentially large flammable objects that need to be treated with care and caution. While Christmas tree fires in homes don’t happen often, when they do occur, they’re much more likely to be deadly. These safety precautions can ensure fire-safe use of Christmas trees:

Choose a tree with fresh, green needles that do not fall off when touched. Before placing the tree in the stand, cut 2 inches from the base of the trunk.

Make sure the tree is at least three feet away from any heat source, like fireplaces, radiators, candles, heat vents or lights. Add water to the tree stand and be sure to add water daily. Get rid of the tree after Christmas or when it is dry.

Holiday decorations

Decorations, lights and candles present increased fire risks, particular during the holidays, with Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and Christmas Eve representing the top three days for home candle fires. Follow these simple steps to keep the season merry, bright and safe:

Keep candles at least 12 inches away from anything that can burn, including in windows, where a blind, curtain or decoration could catch fire. Blow out all candles when you leave the room or go to bed. Avoid the use of candles in the bedroom and other areas where people may fall asleep.

Use lights that are listed by a qualified testing laboratory. Some lights are only for indoor or outdoor use. Additionally, replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. Read the manufacturer’s instructions regarding the number of light strands to connect.

In sum, you don’t need to be a Grinch during the holidays. By recognizing where potential home fire hazards exist and taking simple safety precautions to prevent them, you can ensure a festive, fire-safe season.

Cathy Longley, Communications Manager, National Fire Protection Association, [email protected]

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