Colorful decorations, twinkling lights, scented candles and of course Christmas trees help make the holiday season festive, but these same items can also increase the risk of home fires.  

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), each year firefighters respond to an average of 170 home fires that are reportedly caused by Christmas trees, and some 800 fires that start from holiday decorations (not including trees).  Believe it or not, more than one-third of decoration fires are started by candles, and more than two of every five decoration fires happen because decorations are placed too close to a heat source.

“The winter months are the leading time of year for home fires,” said David Kurasz, Executive Director of New Jersey Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board (NJFSAB). “These fires are typically sparked by cooking, candles, holiday decorations and home heating sources. Unfortunately, these fires don’t just cause damage to homes, they can also result in death.  In fact, according to the NFPA one out of every 45 reported home fires that began with a Christmas tree resulted in a death.”

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He added, “Even one death is too many, especially when a little prior planning and increased awareness can often help prevent fires from occurring.”

In addition to using flame-retardant or flame-resistant decorations, here are some simple tips families can use to help prevent home fires this holiday season.

Tree:

  • Choose a tree with fresh, green needles that do not fall off when touched.
  • Keep the tree hydrated and add water daily. Tip: Use of ice cubes, they melt and are easier to place into the tree stand and help avoid spilling water.
  • Keep the tree and decorations, at least three feet away from any heat source, like fireplaces, radiators, candles, open flames, heat vents or lights.
  • Remove Christmas trees from homes promptly after the holiday season.

Lights

  • Use lights appropriately: some are only for indoor or outdoor use, and check that they have been laboratory tested (such as UL). 
  • Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulbs, and check manufacturer’s guidelines for the number of strands to connect.
  • Use clips, not nails, to hang lights to reduce cord damage.
  • Do not overload electrical outlets
  • Always turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving home or going to bed.

Candles

  • Never use candles to decorate a Christmas tree.
  • Keep candles away from curtains and other flammable materials.
  • Keep candles out of the reach of children and animals (opt for safer battery-operated candles).
  • Blow out candles when leaving the room or retiring for the evening.

Fire Safety

  • Make sure the tree, presents, and other decorations are not blocking an exit (including windows, doors, hallways).
  • Check to make sure your smoke alarms are in working order.
  • If people are smoking, ask they do it outside and to wet the cigarette butt with water before discarding.
  • When cooking, remove flammable items from cooking areas and do not leave the kitchen unattended.
  • Advise all house guests of the fire escape plan.

According to Kurasz, families that have fire sprinklers installed in their homes definitely have an advantage when it comes to fire protection. “Fire sprinklers can reduce the can reduce the risk of dying in a fire by 80 percent, and reduce property loss by 70 percent.  Sprinklers help contain the spread of the fire and give people more time to safely escape when fire breaks out.” 

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The mission of the New Jersey Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board (NJFSAB) is to save lives and protect property by educating the public about fire safety, demonstrating the benefits and effectiveness of fire sprinklers in suppressing and reducing the impact of fires, and supporting fire-safe building codes and legislation.  NJFSAB is a cooperative partnership advocating installation and proper care of fire sprinkler systems. Headquartered in Hamilton, N.J., the Board is comprised of unionized workers (Sprinkler Fitters Local 696), local leaders, code committee members, contractors and businesses who represent fire sprinkler construction, production, distribution and installation.