Safe Decorating and Preventing Home Fires this Holiday Season
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Safe Decorating and Preventing Home Fires this Holiday Season

Following these simple tips will help ensure that your home remains a safe place for festivities and joy this holiday season

December 10, 2020

The holiday season is supposed to be a time of joy and good cheer, but it is also a time when the number of home fires increases. In fact, nearly 47,000 fires occur just during the winter holidays alone. Many of those fires could be prevented quite easily with careful planning and responsible decorating. Take steps now to lessen the chances that your home will become a statistic this holiday season.

Christmas Tree Fire Are often Worse

Christmas tree fires aren't common, but are more serious than the average fire. According to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), one of every 31 reported home structure Christmas tree fires results in a death, compared to an average of one death per 144 total reported home fires.

Real trees, especially in North Carolina, have a dedicated following. To lessen the likelihood of a fire, choose a tree with fresh, green needles that do not fall off when touched. When setting up the tree, cut two inches from the base of the trunk. The tree should be placed at least three feet away from any heat source, including fireplaces, radiators, candles, heat vents, or lights. Make sure it is watered daily. We have a separate article dedicated to Christmas tree safety.

Indoor Lighting

A Christmas tree isn't complete without twinkling lights. But those lights can be dangerous if not used properly. According to the USFA, one of every three home Christmas tree fires is caused by electrical problems. So use lights that have a label of a recognized testing laboratory and that are rated for indoor use. Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. Never connect more than three strands of lights to each other and unplug them before leaving the house or going to bed.

Outdoor Lighting

Many people decorate the outsides of their homes with lights during the holiday season. If you're one of them, make sure to keep electrical connectors off the ground where they can short out from moisture or spark, igniting nearby combustibles. Avoid hanging lights on or near metal rain gutters, which can accelerate or cause damage to the insulation material.

Never use lights outside that are rated for indoor use. The wiring is not made to withstand exposure to water, extreme temperatures or UV light. As with indoor lights, replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. When possible, use insulated tape or plastic retaining clips instead of nails to hold them in place.

Extension cords and power strips

Not all power strips and extension cords are the same, and we're not just talking about length and the number of outlets. These devices are rated for a different number of amps, which is a measure of current. If you have a 20 amp electrical breaker, it will trip if more than 20 amps of current flow through it. But extension cords and power strips don't work this way.

If you are using 15 amps on a 20 amp circuit with your light display, you should be using a cord and power strip rated for at least 15 amps. Using a cord or strip with a lower rating, such as 10 amps, won't trip the breaker. But these devices can easily overheat from the extra current running through them and quickly ignite. If you need to use a power strip or extension cord, use one with the highest amp rating you can buy to be safe. If you have these items lying around, the amp rating is listed somewhere on the item, usually cast into the plug or on a label.

Candle Safety

Candles are common during the holidays, so it's no surprise that December is the peak time for home fires caused by candles. The top three days for home candle fires are Christmas Day, New Year's Day, and Christmas Eve.

Since more than half of all candle fires start when they are too close to things that burn easily, keep candles at least a foot away from anything that can burn. If they are placed in candle holders, make sure they are sturdy and won't tip over easily. Keep pets and curious children away from candles and blow them out when you leave the room or go to bed.

If you burn a candle for the scent, try a candle warmer instead. Warmers use electricity to heat a scented bar of wax, providing the soft light and pleasant smells of a traditional candle.


Nothing beats having a roaring fire, so long as the fire is in the fireplace and not elsewhere in your home. To keep your fireplace safe, make sure that it is cleaned and inspected annually to keep it performing properly. This applies to all fireplaces, not just your traditional fireplace.

Far too often, people keep flammable items too close to fireplaces where stray embers or high heat can start a fire. Keep the area around the hearth clear of all flammable items and use doors and mesh screens to keep embers from flying out. If you are using a traditional fireplace, don't burn anything other than dry wood. Wrapping paper, cardboard, and tree branches increase the risk of a chimney fire. All can flame up very quickly and tree branches can spark. Burning plastics can release toxic chemicals that can damage the fireplace and chimney, not to mention seep into your living space.

Never leave a fireplace unattended until you are sure that the fire is completely out. Embers can smolder for a very long time, even if it appears that there is no activity. Ashes can take days to cool completely.

Smoke Detectors Save Lives

Without a working smoke alarm, your odds of surviving a fire go down considerably. So make sure you have a smoke alarm installed near your kitchen, on each floor of your home (including the basement), and in every bedroom. Smoke detectors should be tested monthly and their batteries should be changed annually at minimum.

More About Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors