Preventing holiday home decoration fires

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Firefighters want you to have a safe and happy holiday, but sometimes the holiday rush can lead to disasters at home. Dan Wilkerson, Huntsville Fire & Rescue Fire Marshal, wants you to be careful about holiday decorations.

He said it is important to go through your decorations to make sure they are not a hazard, or causing a hazardous situation, for you and your family.

During the winter, Huntsville sees more fire investigations. Wilkerson said a lot of that has to do with the temperature outside.

"With the holidays, more people are staying in in the colder weather. They are cooking more, they are using more appliances and heating sources," he said.

General Decorations

Fire investigators want you to check out your Christmas lights. Check to see if any are showing signs of wear. If you are using incandescent lights, you might want to switch to LED's that emit less heat.

"I would not try to repair them. I would discard them and go and replace them," Wilkerson said about any lights that may be damaged. "Some people like to tape them, patch them up, and they can become a hazard that would start a fire."

Wilkerson also said you should make sure none of your decor is blocking exits to your home.

If the way your decorations are situated in your house changes your path out during an emergency, he recommends informing every family member of the safest way to exit the house during the holiday season.

Some decorations may even be too close to a heat source.

"A lot of people like to hang decorations on their fireplace," Wilkerson said. "If you're using your fireplace, you've got a heat source there, which could ignite those decorations."

Placing your space heaters too close to decorations can also be a risky move. Wilkerson said you should maintain a proper distance.

Christmas Trees

Christmas trees, especially when dry and unwatered, can ignite fast.

"Christmas tree fires are not as prevalent as they once were, but they do still happen. And when they happen, they're bad," Wilkerson said.

Just look at this video, for instance:

The NFPA said Christmas tree fires can be particularly deadly: "on average, one of every 45 reported home fires that began with a Christmas tree resulted in a death, compared to an average of one death per 139 total reported home fires."

Experts recommend making sure your lighting and electrical equipment near the Christmas tree is safe, and that you are keeping the tree watered regularly.

Candles

If you're burning tables in your home, Wilkerson recommends that you keep them away from children or animals that may overturn them.  The National Fire Protection Association says the decoration was too close to a heat source, such as a candle or equipment, in two of every five (42%) fires.

And "more than half (56%) of the December home decoration fires were started by candles" according to NFPA data.

"Put them on a sturdy surface so they aren't knocked over," Wilkerson said. "Make sure there are no combustibles around them. People don't think about putting them on the table that has a curtain hanging over it. Your heat is going to rise and it's going to ignite that."

Cooking Fires

Cooking fires are the number one cause of home fires, according to the NFPA.

Wilkerson said it can be easy to get busy and lose track of what you have on the stove.

"I think with the holiday and additional stress of the holiday, people get in a rush and they don't necessarily think about everything so accidents are more prone to happen this time of year," he said.

He told WHNT News 19 that most homeowners he visits after a fire will say they didn't believe it could happen to them. But they are left with damage, injury, or worse in these situations that often could have been prevented. The NFPA says unattended equipment is a factor in one-third (32%) of reported home cooking fires.

Wilkerson said cooking with grease can be very risky. If you see flames, don't douse them with water. Instead, reach for an empty pan to stifle the flames.

"A lot of people don't understand the danger that your cooking grease can produce a flammable vapor and ignite just by the heat of the pan," he said. "The fire continues to grow bigger and faster, and it gets out of control. Always monitor what you're cooking."

Click here for more home cooking tips to reduce fire risk.

Wilkerson said it's a good idea to go over a fire safety plan with anyone who may be staying with you this holiday. That way, if there's an emergency, they know what to do to get out of the house.

He added that especially if you're using a fireplace or heat sources like portable heaters in your home, having a working smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector are a must.