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Most Common Causes of Holiday Fires (Safety Tips Inside)

The change in seasons also brings about a change in our day-to-day habits. As temperatures drop and the sky darkens much earlier, we seek sources of warmth and light within our own homes.

As the holidays approach, it is important to be aware of the heightened fire risks in your household. While you may think that an incident like a fire is unlikely to occur since your family members are spending more time cozied up at home and keeping an eye out at all times, there are a number of safety hazards to be vigilant about in order to keep your loved ones safe as you round out the year.

causes of fire during holiday

Can a Christmas Tree Catch Fire?

While putting up a Christmas tree is a beloved holiday tradition for many, neglect or careless handling can have severe consequences. A dry, unattended Christmas tree is a very common cause of fires, and results in an average of 160 house fires per year.*

Christmas tree fires have led to more deaths on average than other kinds of house fires, due to the rapid speed at which this kind of fire spreads. This is because improperly watered Christmas trees covered in electrical lighting decorations can catch fire, turn into a huge column of flame, and burn to ashes in under a minute. Compare that to a fresh, well-watered Christmas tree, which is unlikely to catch fire at all and, if it happens, will take between seven and ten minutes to burn completely.

What Causes Most Christmas Tree Fires?

The main cause of Christmas tree fires is lighting, which leads to 44% of Christmas tree fires. To lower the risk, always use LED, low-heat lights and make sure that you trim and water your tree daily to reduce the risk of fire. It’s best to have a fire alarm and/or fire extinguisher near the area in case you need to respond to an incident quickly. If you happen to wake up to a Christmas tree fire that has already grown significantly or spread considerably, evacuate the home immediately and call the local fire department.

Is It Dangerous to Leave Candles Burning?

An array of nice, scented candles adds to the ambiance of any space during the colder months. However, candles not only lead to roughly 25% of Christmas tree fires, but they're also a leading cause of fires during many other holidays including New Year, Hanukkah, and Thanksgiving, which is why burning candles must never be left unattended, left overnight, or placed in the reach of young children or pets. Between 2013 and 2017, an average of 22 fires from candles were reported each and every day.

When burning candles, keep them away from anything flammable— wreaths, wrapping paper, fabric, Christmas tree branches, etc. If you plan to place a number of candles around your home, choose ones that come with a high glass wall around them to lower the risk of fire, as the walls act as a shield if the candle is knocked over.

Fortunately, there are many ways you can enjoy the look and scent of candles without having to bring an open flame into your home. Try holiday air fresheners, LED lights, and faux candles to get similar effects without any risk of fire ruining your holiday. These are also much safer to have around young kids and pets since there is no heat or burn hazard.

Holiday Decorations Can Become Fire Hazards

It’s always important to choose the right kind of décor for your home around the holidays, but placing it safely has to be an even bigger priority to ensure fire safety. Between 2013 and 2017, fire departments across the United States responded to more than 780 structure fires each year that were caused by holiday decorations (excluding Christmas trees!)

About 21% of these fires began in the kitchen. Another 15% began in the living room or family room area. These statistics act as a reminder to be mindful about where you place decorations throughout your home. Be wary about décor made of flammable materials, but remember that even non-flammable pieces can catch fire if improperly placed. To be safe, avoid placing decorations near stovetops, candles, and other sources of heat (which would include space heaters, vents, and even lamps).

Holiday string lights, which can turn a room into a magical winter wonderland, can also generate an excessive amount of heat, which is why you it’s ideal upgrade to low-heat, epoxy-lensed LEDs. Avoid over-plugging lights into the same extension cord and when possible, also put your lights on a timer so they do not run around-the-clock. As with any electric device, remember to turn these off when you are not present.

Kitchen Fires Can Ruin The Holiday

Thanksgiving day is when the most holiday-cooking-related fires occur, followed by Christmas Day and then Christmas Eve. With cooking equipment causing more than 20% of house fires, it's important that you are aware of fire safety practices anytime you step into the kitchen.

Keep a clutter-free kitchen, removing decorations from the kitchen prior to using the oven, stove top, or other cooking equipment. Also, be particularly mindful when using hot oil, grease, and open flame, which pose a high risk of scalds or burns. Always mind what you are cooking, and do not leave your stoves or ovens on or unattended. Make sure that young children or pets are not running amok when these tools are in use as they can easily lead to distraction or turn into tripping hazards in an emergency. Since you will be spending a good amount of time in the kitchen during the holidays, this presents the perfect opportunity to teach your young children about kitchen safety.

Celebrating with Fireworks?

There’s nothing quite like the snap, crackle and pop of a fireworks show to mark a special event. That said, the time period between December 30th and January 3rd is when 10% of all firework-related fires occur. New Year's Day is the peak incident day of the season, as many people ring in the new year with a fireworks celebration. Of course, one of the biggest risks of such celebrations is inexperienced people handling fireworks themselves. Even less powerful devices like small firecrackers and sparklers caused an estimated 1,200 injuries in 2017.

As a basic rule of thumb, never use illegal or homemade fireworks, and never light fireworks when there is a fire ban or high risk of fire in your area. Since fireworks are more on the dangerous side, it’s also important to follow all safety precautions when lighting them, which means never lighting them inside or near your home or any other structure and soaking both spent or unused fireworks in water for a few hours before discarding them. Lighting fireworks requires protective gear, a large open area, and timed handling, which is why it's best left to the professionals.

Other Causes of Holiday Fires Hazards

As the weather cools down, space heaters and fireplaces can be another risk factor in home fires, especially since they are typically within the reach of young children. This is why it’s equally important to have the proper safety features, like screens or smoke alarms, installed in your home, as well as to educate your entire family on fire safety practices.

Nothing, including blankets, clothing, or decorations, should ever be draped over a heat source. Proper placement is also critical— keep a three-foot area around a space heater completely clear. Ideally, it’s also worth investing in added safety features like heaters that automatically turned off when they are accidentally tipped over.

If you follow these basic holiday safety tips, which prioritize the safety just as much as aesthetic of your decor, you can ensure your entire family has a safe, enjoyable holiday at home.


* According to a study conducted by the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) between 2013 and 2017.


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