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Don't risk a home fire this winter

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The National Fire Prevention Association advises placing candles on a sturdy, uncluttered surface at least 12 inches away from anything flammable, and blowing them out before leaving the room. The National Fire Prevention Association advises placing candles on a sturdy, uncluttered surface at least 12 inches away from anything flammable, and blowing them out before leaving the room.

The Yule Blog, Dec. 9: 16 days until Christmas

Cooking, heating, candles and Christmas trees: Those are the four factors to blame for most winter home fires.

The winter holidays are a time for celebration. But home heating, cooking and holiday traditions like lighting candles and putting up Christmas trees increase the risk of having a home fire.  

Here are some winter fire safety tips that if followed can help prevent fire from spoiling your holiday, or worse, destroying your home.

Holiday decorations

Holiday decorating – Christmas trees, garland, ornaments and holiday lights – goes a long way to help brighten up the wintery days and long nights. But decorations become a significant hazard if not used carefully.

An estimated 250 home fires involving Christmas trees and another 170 involving holiday lights and other decorative lighting occur each year across the country.

By following a few simple safety tips related to electric lights, candles and Christmas trees, you can avoid a tragedy. Learn how to prevent a fire or what to do in case of a fire in your home.

Electrical fires

Never overload circuits or extension cords. Do not place cords and wires under rugs, over nails or in high-traffic areas. Immediately shut off and unplug appliances that sputter, spark or emit an unusual smell. Have them professionally repaired or replaced.

Christmas trees

Although Christmas tree fires are not common, when they do occur, they are more likely to be serious. On average, one of every 40 reported home structure Christmas tree fires results in a death compared to an average of one death per 142 total reported home structure fires.

A heat source too close to the tree causes roughly one in every six of Christmas tree fires. One of every three home Christmas tree fires are caused by electrical problems.

Christmas trees account for hundreds of fires annually. Typically, shorts in electrical lights or open flames from candles, lighters or matches start tree fires.

Well-watered trees are not a problem, according to USFA. A dry and neglected tree can be.

Officials recommend keeping the tree well-watered and checking the water level every day. Dogs have been known to drink from tree watering containers, so make sure your do is not robbing your tree of needed hydration.

This dramatic clip from the National Fire Protection Association illustrates what happens when fire touches a dry tree compared with a properly maintained, well-watered tree.


Candles may be pretty to look at but they are a cause of home fires — and deaths. Remember, a candle is an open flame, which means that it can easily ignite anything that can burn.

December is the peak time of year for home candle fires. In December, 11 percent of home candle fires began with decorations, compared with 4 percent the rest of the year, according to the National Fire Protection Association

More than half of home candle fires occur when the candle is placed too close to something that is flammable.

During the five-year period of 2006-20010, roughly one-third of home candle fires started in bedrooms. These fires caused 42 percent of the associated deaths and 45 percent of the associated injuries.

On average, 32 home candle fires were reported per day. Falling asleep was a factor in 11 percent of the home candle fires and 43 percent of the associated deaths.

More than half of home candle fires occurred when some form of combustible material was left or came too close to the candle.


Here are some precautions to take when using candles:

  • Blow out all candles when you leave the room or go to bed. Avoid the use of candles in the bedroom and other areas where people may fall asleep.
  • Keep candles at least 12 inches away from anything that can burn.
  • Use candle holders that are sturdy and won’t tip over easily.
  • Put candle holders on a sturdy, uncluttered surface.
  • Light candles carefully. Keep hair and any loose clothing away from the flame.
  • Don’t burn a candle all the way down. Put it out before it gets too close to the holder or container.
  • Never use a candle if oxygen is used in the home.
  • Consider using flameless candles, which imitate the look and even the smell of real candles.
  • Have flashlights and battery-powered lighting ready to use during a power outage. Never use candles.
  • When using candles in a religious service, heldheld candles should not be passed from one person to another at any time.
  • When lighting candles at a candle lighting service, have the person with the unlit candle dip their candle into the flame of the lit candle.
  • Lit candles should not be placed in windows where a blind or curtain could catch fire.
  • Candles placed on or near tables, altars, or shrines, must be watched by an adult.
  • Blow out candles when you leave the room or go to sleep.
  • If a candle must burn continuously, be sure it is enclosed in a glass container and placed in a sink, on a metal tray, or in a deep basin filled with water.


The high cost of heating fuels and utilities has caused many people to opt for alternative methods of home heating. Wood-burning stoves are growing in popularity, and space heaters are selling rapidly or coming out of storage. In fireplaces, people are burning wood and manmade logs. All these methods of heating may be acceptable – but without caution, they are a major contributing factor in residential fires.

According to the U.S. Fire Association, a division of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in 2011, heating equipment was involved in an estimated 53,600 reported home structure fires in the United States. Those fires resulted in 400 civilian deaths, 1,520 civilian injuries and $893 million in direct property damage. Heating-related fires accounted for 14 percent of all reported home fires.

  • Space heaters, whether portable or stationary, accounted for one-third of home heating fires and four out of five of home heating fire deaths, the U.S. Fire Association says.
  • The leading factor contributing to home heating fires was failure to clean creosote from solid-fuel heating equipment, primarily chimneys.
  • Placing things that can burn too close to heating equipment or placing heating equipment too close to things that can burn, such as upholstered furniture, clothing, mattresses and bedding, was the leading factor contributing to ignition in fatal home heating fires and accounted for more than half of home heating fire deaths.
  • Half of all home heating fires occurred in December, January and February.

Kerosene heaters should be used only where approved by authorities. Never use gasoline or camp-stove fuel. Refuel outside and only after the heater has cooled.

If using a fireplace or wood stove, use fire screens and have the chimney cleaned annually. Creosote buildup can ignite a chimney fire that could easily spread.

The USFA advises that having a carbon monoxide detector in the home to monitor air quality is important when an alternative heating source is being used.


Similar to other holidays, including Thanksgiving, there is a somewhat higher incidence of cooking fires on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, according to the U.S. Fire Association. This is not surprising, given the importance of holiday meals.

The incidence of fires caused by open flame also increases on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Families and guests tend to gather in the kitchen, but it can be the most hazardous room in the house if safe cooking practices are not followed. Careless use of cooking equipment, usually a range or stovetop, is the leading cause of home fires and home-fire injuries in the United States.

The USFA recommends than any time there is cooking, it is important to have someone watching the stove at all times.

Install and maintain smoke alarms: More than 3,400 Americans die each year in fires, and approximately 17,500 are injured. An overwhelming number of fires occur in the home. A working smoke alarm can double your chances of survival. The USFA recommends buying and installing a smoke alarm on every level of your home, at a minimum, and if possible in every bedroom, as well as the kitchen. Test it monthly, keep it free of dust and replace the battery at least once a year. Smoke alarms should be replaced after 10 years of service, or as recommended by the manufacturer.

Use appliances wisely: When using appliances follow the manufacturer's safety precautions. Overheating, unusual smells, shorts and sparks are all warning signs that appliances need to be shut off, then replaced or repaired. Unplug appliances when not in use. Use safety caps to cover all unused outlets, especially if there are small children in the home.

Consider fire sprinklers: When home fire sprinklers are used with working smoke alarms, your chances of surviving a fire are greatly increased. Sprinklers can increase property value and lower insurance rates.

Plan an escape: Practice an escape plan from every room in the house. Caution everyone to stay low to the floor when escaping from fire and never to open doors that are hot. Select a location where everyone can meet after escaping the house. Get out then call for help.

Caring for children: Children under five are naturally curious about fire. Many play with matches and lighters. Take the mystery out of fire play by teaching your children that fire is a tool, not a toy.

Caring for older people: Every year more than a thousand senior citizens die in fires. Many of the deaths could have been prevented. Seniors are especially vulnerable because many live alone and can't respond quickly.

NFPA Winter fire safety checklist. NFPA Winter fire safety checklist.

For more information on fire prevention see NFPA.org/winter.

The Yule Blog is a day-to-day countdown to Christmas featuring a new story each day. Click the links below to read other stories in the series.

Nov. 29: Best shopping apps put you where the buys are.

Nov. 30: Small Business Saturday gives independent shops their turn to shine.

Dec. 1: Before there was 'Elf,' there was 'The Santaland Diaries.'

Dec. 2: Historic Smithville has plenty of old-fashioned Christmas spirit to go around

Dec. 3: Earth-friendly gifts help preserve the world's green assets.

Dec. 4: Great gift ideas for the cook

Dec. 5: Let Cape May kindle your Christmas spirit

Dec. 6: The worst and the weirdest Christmas films

Dec. 7: How to take the perfect holiday portrait

Dec. 8: Will South Jersey have a White Christmas in 2013?

Dec. 9: Don't risk a home fire this winter

Dec. 10: In the kitchen with grandma: How to make 6-layer Neapolitan cookies

Dec. 11: 12 (relatively) new songs for Christmas

Dec. 12: Best all-time Christmas movies, Part 1

Dec. 13: Best all-time Christmas movies, Part 2

Dec. 14: How to make Razzleberry Dressing

Dec. 15: Last-minute make-it gift: Peppermint Patty Martini

Dec. 16: Dennisville Christmas House Tour connects past and present

Dec. 17: Snow day survival guide

Dec. 18: Best all-time Christmas songs

Dec. 19: 5 handy gifts for the home baker

Dec. 20: Cookie swaps sweeten the holidays if you can avoid the jams

Dec. 21: When will Santa get here? Track his flight Christmas Eve with NORAD

DEc. 22: Presents for pets - and pet lovers

Dec. 23: Best children's books get to the heart of Christmas

Dec. 24: Feast of the 7 Fishes is a Christmas Eve tradition for many Italians

Dec. 25: People all over the world celebrate the birth of Jesus


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