During the holidays, homes are filled with lights, glowing fires and candles, but these beautiful decorations are often a serious fire hazard, experts warn.
The winter holidays result in nearly 47,000 fires and more than 500 deaths, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. And, in many cases, Christmas trees are the source of the flames. On average, one out of every 22 home fires sparked by a festive tree claims lives, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reported.
The problem has gotten worse over the past 15 years. The American Red Cross said that since 2000, the number of fires the organization has responded to have increased by 10 percent. Candle fires are four times more likely to occur during the holidays than at other times of the year, according to the NFPA.
But, equipping homes with working smoke alarms cuts people’s chances of dying in a fire by nearly 50 percent, the fire association said.
There are other ways people can stay safe and prevent home fires over the holidays, including:
- Place Christmas trees and other decorations at least three feet away from fireplaces, portable heaters, heat vents, candles and other heat sources.
- Metallic or artificial trees should be flame-retardant. Live trees should be fresh and have green needles that aren’t easily broken. Be sure to water live trees often to ensure they don’t dry out.
- Discard any frayed or broken electrical cords. All light strings and other holiday decorations should be in good condition. When using lights or other electrical decorations, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Do not leave the house or go to bed without unplugging the Christmas tree and other holiday lights.
- Be sure to use a sturdy Christmas tree stand to prevent the tree from falling over. Be sure small children and pets are kept a safe distance from the tree.
- Do not keep flammable things, such as pot holders, oven mitts, towels, food packaging and curtains, near the stove top.
- Following a holiday gathering, assign one person the task of walking around the home to make sure that all candles and smoking materials are properly extinguished.
- Be sure to install a smoke alarm near the kitchen and on each level of the home, particularly near bedrooms. Test the alarms every month and replace the batteries at least once a year.
The U.S. Fire Administration provides more holiday fire safety tips.