Winter Holiday Safety

Christmas Tree Safety

According to the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA), U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 230 home fires that started with Christmas trees annually between 2007 and 2011. These fires caused an average of six deaths, 22 injuries, and $18.3 million in direct property damage annually.

The Salt Lake City Fire Department reminds everyone to place your tree at least three feet away from all heat sources, including fireplaces, radiators, and space heaters. Also, when trimming a tree, only use non-combustible or flame-resistant materials.

The U.S. Fire Administration reports that one of every three home Christmas tree fires are caused by electrical problems. Although Christmas tree fires are not common, when they do occur, they are more likely to be serious. On average, one of every 40 reported home structure Christmas tree fires results in a death compared to an average of one death per 142 total reported home structure fires.

A heat source too close to the tree causes roughly one in every six of Christmas tree fires.

When purchasing a live tree:

Check for freshness since a fresh tree will stay green longer and be less of a fire hazard than a dry tree.
Cut one-to-two inches from the base of the trunk immediately before placing the tree in the stand and filling with water to ensure water absorption
Because heated rooms dry out live trees rapidly, be sure to keep the stand filled with water by refilling daily
When purchasing an artificial tree:

Look for the label “Fire Resistant,” which indicates that the tree is more resistant to burning
Don’t use electrical ornaments or light strings on artificial trees with metallic leaves or branch coverings
Also, don’t forget to turn off the lights on your tree when going to bed.

Electric Holiday Lights

Electric holiday lights are a fun part of this month. However, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), holiday lights and other decorative lighting with line voltage are involved in an estimated average of 160 home structure fires each year in the U.S., which caused an average of nine civilian deaths, 13 civilian injuries and $9 million in direct property damage. Electrical failures or malfunctions were factors in two-thirds of those fires.

The Salt Lake City Fire Department reminds everyone that while holiday lighting and electrical decorations contribute to the splendor of the season, they can also significantly increase the risk fires and electrical injuries if not used safely.

Follow these tips for a safe electric holiday display:

  • Before stringing lights, inspect for cracked sockets, frayed, loose or bare wires or loose connections. Unplug light strings before replacing bulbs or fuses.
  • Replace damaged ornament parts with manufacturer-specified items. Bulbs with too-high wattage are a fire hazard.
  • Never run extension cords through water, even those labeled for outdoor use.
  • Always turn off electric decorations before leaving home or going to bed, and be sure all smoke detectors are in working order.
  • Make sure all extension cords and electrical decorations used for outdoor decorating are marked for outdoor use.
  • Match power needs (amperage) of electrical products with amperage rating of extension cords.
  • Inspect all lights, decorations, and extension cords for damage before using.
  • Fasten outdoor lights securely to trees, the house, or other firm supports to protect them from wind damage, but take care not to attach the lights in a way that could damage the cord’s insulation.
  • Make sure spotlights used to illuminate decorations are well-ventilated, protected from weather, and a safe distance from flammable items.
  • Inspect ladders for loose or missing screws, hinges, bolts, and nuts before using.
  • Use wooden or fiberglass ladders when decorating outdoors; metal ladders conduct electricity.
  • Use the right ladder height, ensuring ladders extend at least three feet past the edge of the roof.
  • Exercise caution when decorating near power lines. Keep yourself and your equipment at least 10 feet from power lines.
  • Avoid overloading electrical outlets with too many decorations or electrical devices.  They can overheat and cause a fire.
  • Make sure that cords are not pinched in doors, windows, or under heavy furniture, which could damage the cord’s insulation.

Candles

Whether they are used for holiday decoration or religious purposes, candles are a popular item in December. They are, however, also blamed for starting almost half of all home fires related to decorations according to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI).

The Salt Lake City Fire Department reminds everyone to practice safe candle use.

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 10,630 home structure fires that were started by candles between 2007-2011. These fires caused 115 deaths, 903 injuries and $418 million in direct property damage.

Roughly one-third (36 percent) of home candle fires started in bedrooms. These fires caused 39 percent of the associated deaths and 45 percent of associated injuries. Falling asleep was a factor in 11 percent of the home candle fires and 37 percent of associated deaths. More than half (56 percent) of home candle fires occurred when some form of combustible material was left or came too close to the candle.

Important candle safety tips include:

  • Avoid using candles when possible and consider using battery-operated candles in place of traditional candles
  • Never leave an open flame unattended and keep burning candles within sight
  • Place lighted candles at least 12 inches away from combustible material such as other decorations and wrapping paper
  • Take care to place candle displays in locations where they cannot be knocked over
  • Never use lighted candles on a tree or near other greenery
  • Extinguish all candles before you go to sleep, leave the room, or leave the house
  • Never use a candle if oxygen is used in the home
  • Have flashlights and battery-powered lighting ready to use during a power outage instead of using candles

Space Heaters

While only 32 percent of home heating fires involve space heaters, they cause 79 percent of home heating fire deaths, according to a report released in 2011 by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Heating equipment continues to be the second leading cause of home fires, behind cooking fires, and the second leading cause of home fire deaths, behind smoking.

The Salt Lake City Fire Department recommends caution when using portable heaters in your homes and businesses.

In 2011, heating equipment was involved in an estimated 53,600 reported U.S. home structure fires, with associated losses of 400 civilian deaths, 1,520 civilian injuries, and $893 million in direct property damage. These fires accounted for 14 percent of all reported home fires.

The leading factor contributing to space heater fires in general is heating equipment too close to things that can burn, such as upholstered furniture, clothing, mattress or bedding. This was the leading factor causing fatal home heating fires and accounted for more than half (53 percent) of home heating fire deaths.

When using a portable heater, follow these safety tips:

  • Never operate a heater you suspect is damaged
  • Before use, inspect the heater, cord, and plug for damage
  • Never leave the heater operating while unattended, or while you are sleeping
  • Keep combustible material such as beds, sofas, curtains, papers and clothes at least three feet from the front, sides and rear of the heater
  • Be sure the heater plug fits tightly into the wall outlet (If not, do not use the outlet to power the heater)
  • Never power the heater with an extension cord or power strip
  • Ensure that the heater is placed on a stable, level surface, and located where it will not be knocked over
  • Never run the heater’s cord under rugs or carpeting (This can damage the cord, causing it and nearby objects to burn)
  • To prevent electrical shocks and electrocutions, always keep electric heaters away from water, and never touch an electric heater if you are wet)

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