The holidays are full of decorations that help light up many homes and public spaces. While they can make the season brighter, they also pose a fire risk if not used or maintained properly. ReadyWisconsin encourages everyone to keep fire safety in mind while decorating for the holidays.
“The holidays are a great time to put up lights and greenery, as we get our homes ready to welcome family and friends,” said Wisconsin Emergency Management Administrator Greg Engle. “However, decorations can create serious fire hazards. By taking time to check electrical wires and being cautious with candles, everyone can help keep those around them safer this season.”
Candles remain a popular decoration this time of year, while they are also a frequent reason for why firefighters end up in homes. Nearly half of the home decoration fires reported in the U.S. during the month of December are caused by candles, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
Candles should never be left unattended. They should also be kept at least 12 inches away from flammable materials and where there’s no risk that children or pets could knock them over. Instead of lighting real candles, consider using battery-operated flameless candles as an alternative.
Wired electric lights are another decoration where caution should be used, especially when they are placed on Christmas Trees. The NFPA says electrical distribution or lighting equipment issues are responsible for about a third of home Christmas tree fires.
Inspect holiday lights before decorating your tree and replace strands that have worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. Follow manufacturer’s instructions for using lights, including indoor and outdoor usage. Never link more than three light strands together, unless the directions indicate it is safe to do so. If wires are warm to the touch, unplug and remove them.
Be sure to turn off all lights on trees and other decorations when going to bed or leaving the house. Unplug extension cords when they are not in use.
Christmas trees and other greenery can also be a fire hazard if they are not properly placed or maintained. Live trees should be watered daily. It only takes a matter of seconds for a fire involving a dry, live tree to grow into a large blaze. Trees should also be displayed at least three feet away from heat sources, such as a heater or fireplace. Heat will dry out a tree and make it more combustible when exposed to open flames or sparks.
The holidays also mean gatherings with families and friends. If you’re hosting a holiday party, stay fire safe by keeping the kitchen free of distraction, clear decorations away from around the stove and oven, and always have a fire extinguisher available nearby. In 2021, the NFPA says Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were two of the three leading dates for home structure fires caused by cooking.
Test your smoke alarms to make sure they are working properly, and replace any batteries if you have not done so recently. Smoke alarms should be located on every level of your home and be tested monthly. Create an escape plan with your family and practice it so everyone knows two ways to get out of the house in the event of a fire.