Winter holidays are a time for celebrations, decorations, sparkling trees, and delicious feasts. Unfortunately, many of these traditions also present fire hazards that can quickly turn a joyous time of year into a tragic one. Local residents want to know how to safely celebrate with family and friends this holiday season.
“Project Holiday” is an annual campaign of the National Fire Protection Association that educates the public about the potential fire risks. Decorations, Christmas trees, candles, and cooking all contribute to make December one of the leading months for home fires in the United States. There are a few simple steps that you can take during the holidays to protect your family and your home from the devastating effects of a fire.
NFPA reports that between 2010 and 2014, fire departments in the U.S. responded to an annual average of 210 home fires that began with a Christmas tree. While faulty electrical or lighting equipment were to blame for 35 percent of these fires, 23 percent of them were considered intentional because they were caused by children playing with matches or candles. Christmas tree fires are also responsible for an average of 6 deaths, 16 injuries, and $16.2 million in direct property damage annually.
If your family uses a real Christmas tree, remember to keep it watered and away from any heat sources like a fireplace or heat vent so it doesn’t dry out and accidentally catch on fire. Teach children that matches and lighters are not toys, and that they should be used or handled only by adults.
NFPA also reports that holiday decor, not including Christmas trees, accounted for an average of 860 home structure fires each year between 2009 and 2013, with 20 percent of them occurring in December. Nearly half of these home fires were the result of decorations being too close to a heat source, such as a candle or heating equipment. Surge protectors, which prevent overloading of electrical outlets, are the safest way to brighten your holidays. Remember, the more lights you use, the more you’ll need places to plug them. Decorating with materials that are clearly marked “nonflammable” or “flame-retardant” is an added protection. Decorations in the kitchen were the cause of 20 percent of the fires, so keep anything flammable at least 3 feet from any cooking surfaces. Keep exits clear so that family and guests have ways to easily exit the room and get outside to safety.
Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, and Christmas Eve are the top three days for candle fires. Candles cause 38 percent of house fires and 51 percent of the December home decoration fires. Lit candles are dangerous and should never be left unattended. If you can’t constantly watch candles, you should use electrical lights instead. You can also use battery-operated candles that look real and give off traditional holiday scents without the open flame.
Having an extinguisher at hand and knowing how to use it will be helpful in the event of a small fire. Be sure to inspect the fire extinguishers you have throughout your house. About 40 million Kidde fire extinguishers were recalled in November because they may not work properly. The recall involves two styles of extinguishers that have plastic handles or are push-button indicator and were made by Walter Kidde Portable Equipment Company Inc., of Mebane, N.C.
The recall involves 134 models of Kidde fire extinguishers manufactured between Jan. 1, 1973, and Aug. 15, 2017, including models that were previously recalled in March 2009 and February 2015. The recalled extinguishers were rated ABC- or BC- and came in red, silver, and white and were sold nationwide at many stores, including Home Depot and Walmart, as well as at online retailers, such as Amazon. If you have one of these extinguishers, contact Kidde to request a free replacement and for instructions on returning the recalled one. You can reach Kidde at 855-271-0773, or go to www.kidde.com and click on “Product Safety Recall.”
If you’re looking for more fire safety tips, visit www.nfpa.org. Your local firefighters wish you and your family a very happy and safe holiday season!
This column was written by Jane Perkins, fire safety specialist for the Rhode Island Southern Firefighters League and captain of the Watch Hill Fire Department. If you would like to see a question answered in this column, please e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.