Your hand-cut tree has been up since Thanksgiving; the holiday oven mitts rest on the range as the turkey fryer heats up by the garage. Next door, the electric menorah shines in the window as the new electric scooter charges nearby. The holidays are a great time – but there are lots of ways that disastrous fires can start.
Christmas Tree Safety
The National Fire Protection Association reports that our fire departments responded to an estimated 160 Christmas tree fires each year between 2016 and 2020. We average two deaths per year, lots of injuries, and $12 million in property damage. According to the NFPA, even a well-watered tree will only last four weeks. That means if you decorated after Thanksgiving dinner, it should be discarded the week after Christmas, not after the new year.
That fresh-cut tree should immediately be placed in a container with at least one gallon of water, and bigger trees may require more. Check the level each day to keep that tree hydrated. A well-watered tree will have flexible needles that hold onto the branch.
While nobody places real candles on the tree today, one short from your decorative lights can ignite dry needles. Electricity and a drying tree can be a deadly combination; they cause nearly half of those fires. Before you place that first ornament, check your outlets, tree light bulbs, and light cords for fraying or damage.
Think you’re safe with an artificial tree? Plastics melt and ignite, so follow the same rules that you would with a real tree. Look for the “Fire Resistant” label when buying an artificial tree, and keep all trees away from heat sources, including lamps, heating vents, radiators, fireplaces, space heaters, and candles.
Turn off lights and electrical decorations before leaving the house or going to bed.
Remember, once you stop watering that tree, it becomes an even greater fire hazard. After the holidays, keep the drying tree away from your house until it is recycled or collected on trash day.
The American Christmas Tree Association (ACTA) has tips and more information for a safe holiday display.
Smoke Detectors and Fire Extinguishers
Almost every cook has triggered a smoke detector, which is embarrassing in the moment. But smoke detectors can be a lifesaver. The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends that cooks install alarms at least 10–15 feet from the kitchen range and use photoelectric alarms, as they are less sensitive to cooking activity. Like the smoke detectors in your hallways and bedrooms, your kitchen unit should be installed following the manufacturer’s instructions and have the batteries checked monthly and changed once a year.
Fire extinguishers are rated by their designed use. For example, Class A extinguishers are for fires that involve ordinary household items such as wood, cloth, paper, rubber, and plastics. Class B extinguishers are for flammable liquid fires such as kitchen grease, gasoline, solvents, and oil-based paint. And Class C are rated for fires involving electrical equipment such as wiring, circuit breakers, electronics and appliances.
For general households, use a combined A-B-C extinguisher and place them at every level of your house or apartment, near exits, to create a safe escape pathway. The National Fire Protection Association says to use them when the fire is confined to a small area, it’s not growing, everyone has exited the building, the fire department has been alerted, and the room is not filled with smoke.
For kitchen use, a Class K, designed to prevent burning grease from splattering and spreading, is the one most often found in the home. Since most kitchen fires are small and in a tight area, Class K fire extinguishers use a high-volume, low-velocity spray.
Remember to read the instructions and know how to use a fire extinguisher before you need it!
FEMA offers easy-to-follow home fire prevention tips at their website.
Cooking is the leading cause of all residential building fires and injuries, accounting for an average of 187,500 fires per year from 2017 to 2019, according to FEMA. Food, grease, oven mitts, towels, window curtains, and even wooden spoons can all ignite and cause a potentially deadly fire.
Practice prevention! Keep the stove top clear. Dump those flammable toaster crumbs! Keep handles turned away from you to avoid bumping into them or turning them over. Don’t just stand by that pan. If you have to leave the room, turn off the burner. Practice cleaning up spills as you go and double-checking that you’ve turned off all burners.
Know what to do if you do start a fire. If it’s in the oven, close the door. A burning microwave dish can be put out by closing the door and unplugging the unit. For small pan fires, salt and baking soda can put out the flames, or you can smother the fire with a lid or baking sheet. Never move a burning pan or throw water on burning grease; both can spread the fire.
What could go wrong? Three or more gallons of bubbling oil in a top-heavy pot with red hot handles? Tip-overs, contact burns, and fire are just a few of the potential dangers of these popular holiday cookers.
Start your holiday meal prep safely. Read the instructions that came with the cooker.
Make sure that the fryer is placed on a flat, sturdy, non-wooden surface, a minimum of ten feet away from your home and away from eaves and low-hanging foliage. Never move it while it’s in use! Make sure you have flame-retardant, insulated oven mitts handy – the lid and handles can get dangerously hot. Long sleeves and goggles can protect you from spatters.
Thaw that bird before cooking it! Dropping a frozen or frost-covered turkey into the fryer will cause the oil to splatter out and possibly burn you. Keep kids and pets at least three feet away, and remember, the oil stays hot for several hours.
We all have cherished decorations that come out once a year: electric trains, plug-in candles, bubble lights, or window displays. Maybe they are family hand-me-downs with decades of use behind them. The Electrical Safety Foundation estimates that electrical fires are responsible for 500 deaths, more than 1,400 injuries, and $1.3 billion in property damage each year.
Old or damaged household wiring is a year-round safety concern, but the holidays add to the potential risk as we plug in and turn on our treasured decorations.
Extension cords are meant for temporary use only. Match the cord to its use; they’re rated for indoors or outdoors and by how much power they can withstand. Check for damage, and never plug two together. Cords can easily overheat when used incorrectly. Never cover a cord with a rug, and keep them away from flammable materials.
Before you plug in that dancing snowman for another holiday, check his wiring. Old insulation may be peeling, leaving exposed wires, or the plug may be loose. It may be time to retire these pieces. Even new devices should be unplugged when not in use.
E-bikes and e-scooters are more popular than ever. Lower-cost and environmentally friendly, young and old will be unwrapping one this year. But did you know their batteries have been known to catch on fire and cause explosions? The NFPA recommends that you only buy devices and accessories that are rated by a national testing lab, always follow manufacturer instructions, and only use the batteries and accessories that were designed specifically for that model.
Never overcharge a battery. Stop using the bike if the battery gets hot, puts off an odor, leaks, smokes, or changes shape or size. Never throw an old battery into the trash; dispose of it through an approved battery recycling site.
Batteries should be stored at room temperature, out of direct sunlight. E-bikes, scooters, and their batteries should never be stored by an exit or near flammable items.
Want to learn more fire prevention tips? Visit CPSC’s Holiday Safety Information Center for more holiday safety tips, as well as a sharable Holiday Safety video, poster and b-roll that show the serious risks posed by using a turkey fryer too close to the home, a dry Christmas tree, and burning candles near flammable items.