Advice for a Safe Holiday Season

December 22, 2015

For most of us, the holiday season represents a time for family festivities and good cheer. The holidays are also a time where the risk of home fire is greatest. PURE has paid over $8M in claims resulting from holiday home fires over the past few years.

During this time of year, we engage in activities that serve as some of the leading causes of home fires: candle usagefireplace usage, holiday decorations and distracted cooking. We at PURE want you and your family to be safe this holiday season. The following loss stories and advice can help you to be mindful of risks as you celebrate.

Candles.

Most fires this time of year are caused by candles, even in the homes of highly responsible people. For example, a PURE member suffered a devastating loss when a lit candle, placed on a bedside table, toppled over after the member briefly left the room. It’s a good reminder for all of us not to leave candles unattended and to keep lit candles away from flammable materials. Always place candles on a sturdy and stable surface, not a rolling table, mattress or cushion. Consider artificial, battery operated candles instead of traditional ones whenever possible.

Fireplaces.

Another PURE member's home was almost completely destroyed by a fire that could likely have been avoided by a professional chimney inspection. The fire started because the fireplace had not been cleaned or inspected for several years, and damage to the chimney chase allowed dangerous gases and flames to flow from the chimney into the attic.  

Wood burning fireplaces, stoves, and chimneys should be professionally inspected annually before the first use of the season. If you have not yet had your fireplace(s) inspected and cleaned this season, be cautious when using it. Burn only high-quality, well-seasoned wood and schedule an inspection with your chimney sweep as soon as possible after the holidays.

Decorative Lighting and Christmas Trees.

When using decorative lighting, make sure to check that all the wires and bulbs are in good condition, and that no bulbs are missing. One PURE member returned from a Christmas Eve church service to find their home in flames. It is believed that the fire was sparked by the wiring or bulbs in a nativity scene, another reminder of the value of turning off decorative lights before leaving the home or going to bed. Always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for use, and make sure extension cords are UL approved and unplugged overnight or when away from home.

  • If you have an artificial tree, be sure it’s UL approved and fire-retardant.

  • If you choose a fresh tree, make sure the needles don’t fall off when touched. Be sure to water the tree daily. Make sure it is at least three feet away from any heat source, like fireplaces, space heaters, radiators, candles, heat vents and lights. When discarding your tree, do not store dried-out trees in your home or garage, or near the outside of your home. Other live decorations that cannot be watered, such as wreaths and garland, should be properly discarded immediately after the holidays.

Cooking.

Cooking and baking are year-round activities, however during the holidays – given how busy we are  – we often multitask (entertaining while cooking for example) which increases risk. Try to avoid distractions while cooking and use timers to remind you to remove items from the stove and oven. Most cooking fires involve the stovetop, so keep anything that can catch fire away from it, and turn off the stove when you leave the kitchen, even if it’s for a short period of time. We recommend keeping an ABC rated fire extinguisher in your kitchen. Lastly, we’ve all read how dangerous turkey fryers can be. Use them only in wide open outdoor spaces, far away from your home and other flammables.