As the tangled lights and stockings find their way out of the attic, it can only mean one thing…the holidays are here! For some families though, their celebrations will turn to tragedy as the holidays also represent the busiest home fire season of the year. For the American Red Cross, the average number of daily house fires will double during the holiday season, going to as high as eight per day in the North Texas area.
Between Thanksgiving Day and New Year’s Eve in 2010, the American Red Cross in the DFW area responded to 157 house and apartment fires, helped 508 displaced people and spent nearly $100,000 in the recovery efforts.
Each year, hospital emergency rooms treat about 1,300 people for injuries related to holiday lights and 6,200 people for injuries related to holiday decorations and Christmas trees. In addition, Christmas trees are involved in about 400 fires annually, resulting in 40 deaths, 80 injuries and an average of more than $15 million in property loss and damage each year. Below are suggestions on how to safeguard your family from fire over the holidays.
Candles are a nice addition to any holiday celebration; however festivities can be cut short if candles are used improperly. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), December is the leading month for home candle fires, with twice the average number of incidents. The NFPA and the Red Cross offer these candle safety tips:
• Secure candles in a sturdy holder on a flat surface that won't tip over.
• Make sure the holder is big enough to collect the dripping wax.
• Don't place candles in windows where blinds or curtains can close over them.
• Do not leave a burning candle unattended.
• If you experience a power outage, use flashlights and other battery-generated light sources.
• Do not carry a lit candle or use a lit candle to look for things in a closet or confined area.
• Place candles out of reach of children, and in a position where pets won't be able to knock them over.
• Do not use a candle for light when fueling equipment such as a kerosene heater or lantern, as flame may ignite the vapors.
• KEEP ALL MATCHES AND LIGHTERS OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN.
On average, more than one-third of home fire deaths in the United States occur during the winter months. Heating equipment fires are the second leading cause of fire deaths in American homes and the biggest fire culprit December through January. Here are some specific fire prevention tips to keep in mind when heating your home.
• Keep portable heaters at least 3 feet from anything that can burn including furniture, bedding, clothing, pets and people.
• Do not leave space heaters on when you are not in the room or when you go to sleep.
• Do not use gasoline or other substitute fuel in a kerosene heater because the wrong fuel could burn hotter than the design limits of the equipment and cause a serious fire.
• Store kerosene away from heat or open flame in a container approved by the local fire department.
• Have your chimney inspected by a professional before the start of the heating season and cleaned if necessary.
• Use a sturdy fireplace screen when burning fires.
• Burn only wood. Never burn paper or pine boughs, which can float out the chimney and ignite your roof or a neighboring home.
Holiday Decorations and Christmas Trees
Christmas trees are directly responsible for around 40 fatalities every year. Follow these safety tips while decorating your home for the holidays:
• If using a live Christmas tree, keep it watered daily.
• Never put a lit candle on a Christmas tree.
• Make sure your Christmas tree is far away from any source of ignition such as a space heater or candle.
• When putting holiday lights on the tree, follow the instructions recommended by UL Laboratories.
• Overloaded circuits are the cause of many home fires during the holiday season.
Home fires often start in the kitchen. With more people in the home due to holiday parties and family gatherings, it is important to follow these precautions to avoid a holiday fire:
• Never leave the kitchen area while cooking.
• Keep plenty of oven mitts on hand.
• Have a working fire extinguisher nearby and know how to use it.
• Keep children and pets away from the cooking areas. Falling pots and pans can burn children.
The early warning signal of a smoke detector can save lives. Be sure to install a battery-powered smoke detector outside each sleeping area and on each additional level of your home. Use the test button to check each smoke detector once a month. When necessary, replace batteries immediately. The Red Cross recommends you replace batteries at least once a year. Make a fire escape plan for your family and have a family meeting place outside your home. For free information in English or Spanish, visit the Red Cross web site at www.redcrossdfw.org.