Aunt Bethany: “Is your house on fire, Clark?”
Clark Griswold: “No Aunt Bethany, those are the Christmas lights.”
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
Alas, The Grinch That Stole Christmas isn’t just a timeless Dr. Seuss classic. It’s the heartbreaking true story thousands of American families will suffer through this holiday season
Residential house fires are more frequent, more costly and deadlier during the holiday season than any other time of the year. The United States Fire Association reports property loss from a holiday fire produces 34 percent more damage than an average fire. The number of holiday fire fatalities per thousand fires is almost 70 percent higher. When the source of the fire is a highly flammable Christmas tree, the cost in lives and property loss is even worse.
How can you prevent your household from becoming a holiday fire statistic? Follow these safety tips that will help your family celebrate a safe, joyous and fire-free season.
Cook With Caution
The top cause of holiday fires (according to the USFA), inattentive cooking can lead to a worse result than capturing a spot on The Food Network’s “America’s Worst Chefs.” The most common source of holiday kitchen fires is food left unattended. To avoid chestnuts burning the kitchen on an open fire, make sure to take pot holders with you when you have something on the stove as a reminder that you have something cooking. Have an all-fire rated fire extinguisher close by and make sure your smoke detectors are working.
Avoid Candles In The Wind
Sure, it’s a classic Elton John tune, but candles left unattended in December are four times more likely to lead to candle fires. The National Fire Protection Association notes four of the five most dangerous days of the year for residential candle fires are Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
To minimize the danger of candle fires igniting in your home, keep a foot of space between the candle and anything that can burn. Set candles on sturdy bases or cover with hurricane globes. Never, and folks we emphasize NEVER, leave flames unattended. Before going to bed, do a candle walk through every home of the house to make sure candles are blown out. For Christmas atmosphere without worry, turn to flameless LED candles to create a festive holiday mood.
Beware Flaming Christmas Trees
Nothing says Christmas than a live Christmas tree. Unfortunately, nothing says Christmas fire danger than a real, dry Christmas tree. They are the definition of an extreme fire hazard that can engulf a room in less than 30 seconds, according to the Building and Fire Research Laboratory of the National Institute for Standards and Technology.
The NFPA reports U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 200 home fires each year that start with Christmas trees from 2011-2015. Tragically, these fires caused an average of six deaths, 16 injuries and $14.8 million in direct property damage annually.
“They make turpentine out of pine trees,” USFA spokesman Tom Olshanski said. “A Christmas tree is almost explosive when it goes.”
To reduce risk, purchase a fresh tree with intact needles, get a fresh cut on the trunk and water your tree every day and twice on Sunday. A well-watered tree is almost impossible to ignite. Stand the tree away from heat sources like fireplaces and radiators and out of traffic patterns. Keep live garlands and other greenery at least three feet away from heating sources.
Decorative Lights Turn Destructive
You don’t have to be Clark Griswold to know the dangers frayed, cracked or broken sockets in Christmas lights can cause. Inspect your lights weekly for damage or defective bulbs, wires and sockets and don’t run more than three strings of lights end to end.
“Stacking the plugs is much safer when you’re using a large quantity of lights,” Brian L. Vogt, director for holiday lighting firm Christmas Décor, told House Logic.com.
Make sure extension cords are in good condition and UL-rated for indoor use. Avoid hanging outdoor lights on nails or staples, which can damage the wiring and increase the risk of fire. Instead, use UL-rated clips or hangers. Take all holiday lights down after 90 days.
Kids And Fire-An Instantly Combustible Mix
Keep match boxes, lighters and all instantly flammable materials away from kids. Don’t take any chances. Thirteen percent of household fire deaths from January through March are the result of children playing with fire. That number doubles to 26 percent in December.
Santa-Safe The Fireplace
It’s not just Jolly Ole St. Nick counting on you to keep your chimney and fireplace clean. Soot can harden on chimney walls as flammable creosote. Before the winter fireplace season begins, have a professional inspect your chimney and clean if needed. Screen your fireplace to prevent embers from jumping out onto the floor or carpet. Also, never use flammable liquids to start a fire and only burn seasoned wood. Sorry kids, no wrapping paper roasting on an open fire.
Remember, nothing kills the spirit and joy of Christmas like a destructive holiday home fire. Prevent your family and home from becoming an unfortunate holiday fire statistic by taking these fire prevention measures. Because nobody wants to be Clark and Rusty Griswold having this holiday fire safety conversation after it’s too late:
Clark: “Russ, we checked every bulb, didn’t we?”
Rusty: “Sure, Dad.”
Clark: “Hmm… Maybe we ought to just go up there and check …”
Rusty: “Oh, woo. Look at the time. I gotta get to bed. I still gotta brush my teeth, feed the hog, still got some homework to do, still got those bills to pay, wash the car…”