If you are like most Americans, in the next few weeks you’ll be filling your home with lovely holiday decorations, lighting candles, and stringing up the lights. It’s a special time of year, but with so many potential hazards lying around, make sure that cozy doesn’t turn critical, especially when the crowds of family and friends pile in for dinner.
Take the following fire safety precautions, but first things first: Make sure that there are good batteries in all of your smoke detectors and that they are functioning properly. If you haven’t tested them for a while, now is a good time. Replace any worn-out batteries and malfunctioning smoke detectors.
For over 5,000 years, candles have been one of man’s most basic necessities, illuminating the dark of night and inspiring countless minds in rituals and celebrations. Though they are no longer the necessity they once were, Americans love candles so much that we burn 5 million tons of wax candles each year. That’s $2 billion worth of candles.
For many, the holidays would not be the same without candles. Over the next two months, 35 percent of those candles will illuminate homes across America. That is a lot of open flame, so it is really no surprise that over 15,000 structure fires are started each year by candles, according to FEMA.
Since candles are used for ambiance and ritual, it can be easy to forget that they are still burning and need to be put out. Most candle fires are started because a candle is too close to combustible material. A good rule of thumb is to never burn a candle within 12 inches of combustible material. Make sure to extinguish all candles before going to bed. Always burn candles on a sturdy noncombustible surface or on a candle holder where they will not be tipped over.
Be careful lighting candles, keeping hair and loose clothing well away from the flame. Put candles out before they burn all the way down, and never use candles if oxygen is used in the home.
Decorative Electric Lights
Candles aren’t the only things that cause holiday fires; electric Christmas lights and decorations also take some of the blame. Be sure that your Christmas lights are not in contact with anything that can burn. Check the wires to make sure that there are no frayed or exposed strands.
If you are reusing last year’s lights, check if they appear worn out with kinks, broken sockets, or cracking insulation. If you see any of these, toss them out. Do not link more than three strands of lights together, as doing so could overload a circuit.
Occasionally check to make sure that there is no detectable heat in the cord where it is plugged into the outlet. If there is, it is a sign that there is too much load on the cord. Please also make sure you use outdoor lights outdoors, and indoor lights indoors, as they are designed differently to withstand the elements.
Though lovely, a natural Christmas tree can also become a potential fire hazard. There are around 60 Christmas fires every year. To avoid a tree fire in your house, your tree should be as fresh as possible. The needles should be flexible and well-fastened to the branches, and the base of the trunk should be sticky to the touch.
If you suspect that a tree is old, you can test it by giving it a little hoist. If lots of needles fall off the tree when it hits the ground, it will probably be a fire hazard. Be sure to keep water in the tree stand to prevent it from drying out. Though it has been separated from its roots, it will still move water to the needles, keeping it looking its best while lessening its potential to burn.
Keep portable heaters well away from the tree, and make sure your tree is not blocking any exit paths in your house.
If you have a fireplace in your house, make sure it has been cleaned and inspected. A chimney fire usually only happens if your chimney has been neglected. If you haven’t had your chimney inspected and cleaned recently, get it done before the cold really sets in. Chimney fires are serious business, and having your chimney cleaned is not something to put on the back burner.
Resist the urge to burn a big pile of wrapping paper on Christmas morning. Doing so can produce a large fire that could start a chimney fire or cause burning embers to fly out the top of your chimney, endangering your rooftop as well as any other structures that are nearby.
The Busy Kitchen
Kitchen fires are the number one cause of home fires, and Thanksgiving takes the cake. With so much happening in the kitchen during the holidays, be sure to keep safety in mind.
Never leave the stovetop unattended when it is in use. Keep the oven and toaster clean since it is often not the food itself that catches on fire, but the buildup of crumbs and drips that provide the fuel. Keep the stove top clear of anything that can ignite, such as paper towels, rags, packaging, and wooden utensils.
In general, keep the kitchen clear of clutter and stay tuned in to what is cooking and the temperatures at which they are cooking.
Whatever safety precautions you take on a normal day, triple that during the stressful preparation period for your holiday gatherings. If there are helpers in the kitchen, make sure everyone knows their tasks, has ample working space, moves carefully, and does not crowd the stove.
There should be a kitchen-specific fire extinguisher in the kitchen. Remember to never use water on a grease fire. If you do, it can send hot grease flying everywhere, as can a traditional fire extinguisher. Kidde makes a kitchen-specific fire extinguisher, which prevents burning oil from splattering and spreading the fire.
As an alternative, you can use baking soda on fires. Keep a box opened in a cabinet or on a shelf. If you do have a fire on the stove, smother it with baking soda. If you have a fire in the oven or broiler, shut the door and turn off the heat to smother it. Opening the door will just give it more air and cause it to burn hotter.
As stressful as holiday entertaining can be, it is worth the peace of mind to put your safety net in place before the craziness ramps up.
Gordon Elliot has over 30 years of experience in working on homes and is on a mission to arm people with the skills and confidence to do home projects they would not have otherwise attempted.
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