Deck the halls and trim the tree: Tips for a festive and safe home

Written by Brad Galvin and edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteers

The holidays are approaching, so is the heightened risk for home fires. Unfortunately, this time of year is tragically one of the busiest for fire departments due to the surprising danger of holiday décor, dry Christmas trees, holiday cooking and misuse of fireplaces and chimneys.

fireplace-1024x683.jpgBeautiful, fragrant and festive, the live Christmas tree can be very risky if safety precautions are not observed. The longer the tree is in the home without being given ample water, the more it will dry out and become a fire hazard. A dry live tree can go up in flames quickly if there is an electrical mishap with a strand of lights or if an open flame gets too close to the needles. It is important to continue to give your tree plenty of water and keep it away from energy sources. Strands of lights should be checked frequently.

According the National Fire Protection Agency, between 2012 to 2016, U.S. fire departments responded to an average 170 home fires per year that started with Christmas trees. These fires caused an average of four deaths, 15 injuries and $12 million in direct property damage annually.

Festive décor should be installed with common sense in mind. Décor such as candles and lights can catch their cheerful counterparts such as garland, bows and wreaths on fire if they aren’t properly inspected and used correctly. Do not overload sockets and connect too many extension cords.

Hams, casseroles and delicious cookies are staples on the holiday plate but use caution 240_F_146531964_rcj4af3xtTm2f3nW8aoKU9G6Y14fPSt6when using the oven and cooking range. FEMA recommends a common-sense practice of simply staying in the kitchen when you are frying, grilling or cooking on the stove top or broiling food. The idea of “set-it and forget-it” is dangerous. Additionally, FEMA recommends to never use a turkey fryer in a garage or on a wooden deck. It’s imperative to watch the fryer carefully, as the oil will continue to heat until it can catch on fire. To avoid oil spillover, don’t overfill the fryer.

The holidays are the perfect time to enjoy the crackling of a fire in the fireplace. Stockings hung from the mantel is an iconic holiday image. While picturesque, it is critical to be smart when operating the fireplace. Some suggestions from the American Academy of Pediatrics include:

  • Even if the chimney is not due for cleaning, it is important to check for animal nests or other blockages that could prevent smoke from escaping.
  • Make sure the area around the fireplace is clear of anything that is potentially flammable (furniture, drapes, newspapers, books, etc.). If these items get too close to the fireplace, they could catch fire.
  • Never leave a fire in the fireplace unattended. Make sure it is completely out before going to bed or leaving the house. If you leave the room while the fire is burning or the fireplace is still hot, take your small child with you.
  • Always have a fire extinguisher nearby.

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The holidays are meant to be enjoyed with friends and family. The excitement can often divert our attention and distract us from our usual diligence. It’s imperative to use these common-sense suggestions to decrease the risk of a dangerous home fire.

You can learn more about preventing home fires with tips from the American Red Cross at redcross.org. The Red Cross offers simple safety tips that take you safely through the holidays and into the new year. Read  them here.