The rules for Winter Holiday fire safety

By Gordon Williams 

It’s December, meaning we are deep into the winter holiday season. Hanukkah starts December 10; Christmas Day is the 25th and Kwanzaa starts on the 26th. Since all three celebrations include elements that can lead to home fires, we are also deep into the holiday home fire season. 

The best way to avoid a holiday-related fire is to follow the stay-safe advice of such fire prevention experts as the American Red Cross and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). The NFPA is a non-profit entity that works to limit deaths, injury and property damage due to home fires.

Start with the safety rules for a significant source of holiday fires — the Christmas tree. Fresh and green, it can be the centerpiece of your holiday celebration. Dried out, it can turn into a dangerously flammable object deep inside your home. The NFPA warns, “Although Christmas tree fires are not common, when they do occur they are more likely to be serious.” 

Here are some recommendations from the American Red Cross about Christmas tree safety. 

  • Check all holiday light cords to make sure they aren’t frayed or broken. 
  • Don’t string more than three strands of lights from one extension cord. 
  • If buying an artificial tree, look for the fire-resistant label. 
  • If buying a live tree, make sure it is fresh. Check for freshness by bending the needles up and down to make sure none fall off.    
  • Keep all trees at least three feet from fireplaces, radiators and other sources of heat. 
  • Don’t use electric lights on metallic trees.  
  • Don’t forget to turn off all holiday lights when going to bed or leaving the house. 

The NFPA also has some advice about Christmas tree safety. For instance, “Before placing the tree in its stand, cut 2 inches from the base of the trunk. Fill the tree stand with water and add water to the stand daily.”  

The NFPA further advises, “Bring outdoor electrical lights inside after the holidays to prevent hazards and make them last longer.” Finally, the NFPA advises, “Get rid of the tree after Christmas or when it is dry. Dried-out trees are a fire danger, and should not be left in the home or garage or placed outside against the home.” 

It happens that each of the three winter celebrations has features that can lead to home fires. The tree and its fittings are one such feature. Candles with open flames are another. We burn candles to add a festive touch to the Christmas scene. And candles are central to the way both Hanukkah and Kwanzaa are celebrated. 

Hanukkah involves an eight-stemmed candelabrum called a menorah. The holiday lasts for eight nights, and candles are lit in the menorah each night. Kwanzaa uses a seven-stemmed candle holder called a kinara. The holiday runs for seven days, and candles are lit in the kinara each day. 

The NFPA warns that, “December is the peak month for home candle fires. Three of every five candle fires start when things that can burn are too close to the candle.” Obviously candle fires can start at any time — after a kid’s birthday party, for instance. So, the rules for candle safety apply 24/7, 365 days a year.

Here are some of those rules from the NFPA:

  • Whether it is to celebrate Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, or just to brighten your home, use a candle holder that is sturdy and won’t tip over. You can admire the do-it-yourself menorah your child made, but light your candles in a purchased candle holder that won’t be a danger for your Hanukkah or Kwanzaa celebration.  
  • Put the candle holder on a sturdy, uncluttered non-flammable surface. 
  • Light the candles carefully. Keep your hair and any loose clothing away from the flames.
  • Lit candles should never be placed in a window where blinds or curtains could catch fire. 
  • When lighting candles for a religious service, dip the unlit candle into the flame of a lit candle. Don’t wave a lighted candle around. 
  • Keep candles out of the reach of children and pets. If a child is to light a candle, consider a battery-powered electric candle holder which features electric lights instead of an open flame.  
  • Extinguish all candles before leaving home or even leaving the room. Never leave a candle burning when you go to sleep.  

Finally, the NFPA offers a bit more candle-safety advice, to be followed year-around. 

  • Never leave a child alone in a room with a burning candle. 
  • Never use a candle if oxygen is in the home. 
  • Have flashlights and battery-powered lighting ready to use during a power outage; never use candles for emergency lighting. 

However you celebrate, we hope your season is filled with nothing but joy. This guidance can help ensure your festivities are both happy and safe. Happy Holidays from the Northwest Region of the American Red Cross!

American Red Cross Northwest Region

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