Holiday fire safety advice from the pros

Simple tips and reminders to keep your season merry.

Bob Wooley
bwooley@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 12/6/20

The holidays are here and in a year like no other, some things remain a constant. Risk of home fires (excluding wildfire) goes up. According to data compiled by the National Fire Protection …

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Holiday fire safety advice from the pros

Simple tips and reminders to keep your season merry.

Posted

The holidays are here and in a year like no other, some things remain a constant. Risk of home fires (excluding wildfire) goes up. According to data compiled by the National Fire Protection Association, the number one cause of home fires every year is cooking, which caused an average of 172,900 reported home structure fires per year (49% of all reported home fires in the US) from 2014-2018. These fires resulted in an average of 550 civilian deaths per year. Christmas Day and Christmas Eve trail only Thanksgiving with the highest number of home fires caused by cooking each year.

To prevent cooking fires, experts advise cooking with caution, avoiding cooking when you’ve consumed alcohol or are tired. Stay in the kitchen while frying, boiling, grilling or broiling. And checking on food, baking or roasting in an oven, frequently. It’s also important to keep things like oven mitts, wooden utensils, food packaging and towels away from the stovetop. To extinguish a small grease fire, smother the flames by sliding a lid over the pan and turn off the burner. For an oven fire, they recommend turning off the heat and leaving the oven door closed.

Erin Bravo, Community Education Specialist at West Metro Fire Rescue says the department relies on statistics the NFPA provides when discussing seasonal risks.
Aside from kitchen fires, the NFPA reports that on average, during the same 2014-2018 timeframe, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 930 home fires each year caused by decorations and Christmas trees. Decorations accounting for nearly 83% of those fires. The resulting destruction was significant with an estimated four deaths, 44 injuries and $21 million in property damage each year.

When decorating, the NFPA advises people to choose flame resistant or retardant decorations, keeping lit candles away from decorations or other flammable items and being sure to replace worn or broken strings of lights. Using clips instead of nails to hang lights to prevent damage to cords is also a good tip.

Candles make up a risk category of their own, with an estimated 21 home candle fires reported each day, across the country, between 2014-2018. Some 60% of candle fires started when a candle was too close to something flammable like furniture, mattresses, curtains or decorations. According to the NFPA, candle fires peak in December, with January coming in second for highest monthly totals. Christmas Day has the highest number of candle fires, with almost three times the daily average and the risk of candles catching home decorations on fire jumps from 4% during the period from January through November to 12% in December.

The NFPA says other causes like Fireworks contribute to holiday fire risks as well. Fireworks used in the five day stretch between Dec. 30 - Jan. 3 account for 10% of all yearly fireworks fires, with the most occurring on New Year’s Day.

Not all seasonal fires are related to the holidays. Chilly weather and increased use of space heaters, furnaces, fireplaces and wood stoves contribute to the numbers. NFPA data show half of annual home heating fires are reported in the months of December, January and February. They recommend keeping anything flammable at least three-feet away from heating equipment, never using your oven to heat your home and making sure heating equipment is professionally installed and up to code. They also advise having chimneys cleaned and inspected every year, and making sure to turn off portable heaters when leaving a room or going to bed.

Lastly, NFPA advises you test smoke alarms in your home at least once a month.

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